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In reference to the patent: US6910697.

Is the patent US 6,910,697 B2 still valid and in force? Also I noticed it was first submitted in 2000 and approved in 2005. This is 2017. And I have thought of this idea since 1999, though I didn't know it had been patented. Can I go ahead and get a patent for it, if it is no longer in use?

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US6910697 is still active and will continue to be until December 15th of 2020. It really doesn't matter if you think you thought of this idea first, someone else procured the patent before you did. When this patent does expire, you can not just get your own patent for the same idea. The whole idea behind patents is that in exchange for teaching the world how to use your invention, you get a limited term of exclusivity. After the patent expires, anyone can utilize the technology. You may be able to get a patent on an improvement to the technology in this patent. However, you need to be aware that there may be other patents that are relevant. One good way to start looking into this is the patent citations link and the referenced by link of the patent.

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Just check in US PAIRS if the yearly fees have been payed. If fees have not been payed by the Applicant, the invention is free. But watch out for patent family members or continuations. And check also if patent cannot be restored, even if after lapsing by non-payment

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    PAIR does not show maintenance fee payments and, in any case, they are not due annually in the U.S. – George White Oct 26 '18 at 4:36

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