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Sorry for what may be to some a silly question.

I have a friend who has as idea for a product based on technology he invented. The problem is that we have seen another company that basically does the same thing, although it works differently.

The question is: Can my friend legally sell his product and get a patent, or does the fact that someone else owns a patent for a product that does the same thing stop him from doing so?

I searched and see patents for similar ideas, but none of them seem to be in the market. I see they received patents, but further searches do not show me that the products are actually being sold anywhere.

The product I am talking about is owned and patented by a major US company. They install this is all their new products.

It is hard for me to be more specific without betraying my friend and his idea.

For example, there are many cell phones out there. Did one company ever have the patent for cell phones? Or could someone make a new cell phone that works a little differently?

This product is a product for retrieving stolen property. As I mentioned, it is already offered by a very large US company. My friend has the same idea, meaning to retrieve the stolen property by making the product useless.

For example. I have a computer (just an example). Someone steals my computer. A company out there already has a patented product that will locate the computer, and render it useless.

I cannot imagine that the idea itself would get a patent. Everyone would like to have such a product. SO is the IDEA patented in general, or is the specific way it works patented?

Can the company that now owns a patent and sells a similar product stop my friend from doing the same thing but in a different way?

Again, sorry for being so naive. I am trying to understand how it works.

Thanks in advance for any help.

share|improve this question
What a patent covers is dictated by the wording of its claims. Claims may be written more broadly or more narrowly. If what your friend plans to do falls under the wording of at least one claim then he would be infringing. Note that claims are often hard to read and interpret. –  George White Jun 26 at 20:04

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