Can machines with expired patents become open source hardware?

Does anyone have experience in working with old industrial machinery and making them into open source hardware plans? I am currently trying to build machines to process flax and hemp into yarn, and so far have gone down a route of building DIY tools from FOSH plans. However in my research I’m seeing that other flax farmers are buying up old equipment which is no longer manufactured and fixing it up themselves. I am wondering if it is possible to have the best of both worlds and buy old equipment and try to reverse engineer it make open source plans? If anyone has done this before I would love to hear from you!

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I am not a lawyer, but the way I understand it, there are multiple types of IP to be aware of:

Patent:- Describes how the thing works. Even if you invent the same thing independently you can infringe (these are the biggest problem to innovation). Expires after about 20 years, I think this depends on where it is registered

Copyright:- Controls how you copy a specific copyable work (drawing, text, code etc). Takes aaaages to expire

Trademark:- This is the brand name and does not expire.

In the situation above:

  • The patent is expired so you are fine there.
  • The copyright will not have expired. So if you find the original manufacturing drawings and shared them that would be a violation. However, if you measure the physical part and make your own drawing then this should not violate copyright.
  • Trademark probably still exists. So when you reverse engineer it. Don’t put the old logo on it! Or try to sell anything as though it was made by the original manufacturer

So I think what you want to do should be fine.


I think it is worth a ask to @kaspar @gaudi who have been hacking gene sequencers? From what I remember (and this might be totally wrong) there was something about the technology in those first generation sequencers being expired and being ok to them fiddle around with them? My point is that they might have also looked into this?


If you know the patents you care about, you can check their legal status for free at
So, you can figure out if they are active or inactive. Sometimes there are patent applications that actually never got granted. Or never got granted in the regions you care. All this information should be publicly available now, if we are talking about old patents. Give it a try, but also if you find the website to cumbersome, as a new user, you may also send me the patent numbers you care about and I can quickly do the check for you!


I would highly recommend the patent search - it links in to the scientific literature, is quite inuitive (although it has a very feature rich interface) and has a filter specifically for expired, discontinued or inactive patents that I find very helpful.


The one hosted at MTU for free patents updates weekly and is here


Thanks this is super helpful! And a good excuse for some travel, I may have to go to Helsinki and measure a flax spinning machine!

We need to separate here. A patent depicts an innovation on a general level. What’s more, licenses can be carried out, by equipment or programming. The proprietor of a patent can limit executions as he sees fit. The practitioner has free of the patent an ordinary copyright on his work.
Presently, what occurs in the event that the patent expires? That implies the innovation covered can now unreservedly be executed. Existing executions are as yet covered by their copyright. However, the expiring of the patent could make the way for an open source execution.

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