The US Patent and Trademark Office may be the key battleground in today's high-tech lawsuits, but it's also home to a trove of inventions that have fallen into the public domain. Now patent lawyer Martin Galese is trying to bring some 21st century tech to the charming ideas patented in the 19th and 20th centuries. He's dug up eccentric creations — from an Escher-esque building block to a combination comb and hair clip — and is rebuilding them using digital modeling tools, allowing anyone with a 3D printer to own a once-patented work from the past.

“You’re holding the 19th century by way of something that was produced in the 21st century,” Galese told The New York Times. Galese said that he sees the intricate drawings that accompany many patents as beautiful works of art, but that isn't the aspect he appreciates most: the real idea of his Patent-Able blog, where all of his 3D models are featured, is to help people see the patent office as as wealth of ideas, and not just the impetus for endless legal battles.

Most patents have fallen into the public domain

Galese notes that there are over 8 million registered patents — and according to the Patently-O law blog's estimates, only about 2.1 million of those were still in force last year. Just over a dozen patents have been featured so far on Galese's blog, and he's still on the lookout for "cool, weird, [and] surprisingly useful" ideas from the past to turn into 3D models. He uses MakerBot's Thingiverse website — which collects and shares user-generated 3D models — to host all of his recreations. Galese thinks that it's a fitting home for them: the patent office's archives, he told the Times, are really just the "original Thingiverse."