Intellectual Property Law
Intellectual Property Law Questions? Ask a Lawyer
There are different aspects of the law that are involved in the question. First, the article itself as a written piece of work is covered by copyright law. Assuming that the work was published before 1923, it would be in the public domain. That would mean that you are free to republish the work or take quotes from it, etc. The second area of the law that you seem to be alluding to is not the actual article itself but instead the ideas or processes that the article speaks about. Idea and processes are governed by patent law. In order to obtain a patent, the idea, process, etc. must be novel (i.e., it must be so unique as to never have been invented before). The patent process is very tough. It is possible to change something that exists currently such that the new use is so novel as to be able to rise to patent protection but it is hard to do, especially if you are just speaking about something written (e.g., if I took a car and changed it so that it could fly with some new type of propulsion that has never been invented, I might be able to get a patent on the propulsion, but not likely the rest of the car). If you write something additional, that unique piece that you wrote would be protected by copyright.