Patents are good from 7 to 14 years after their filings, I think. The last Apple //e rolled off the line in 1993. 1993+14=2007. So didn't the patents on all the technology involved expire over 4 years ago, making the firmware public domain now?
Remember that the firmware (ROM) is under Apple's copyright, this is different from the design patents that cover the electronics. Apple can still say they own the software.
Due to changes in copyright laws a number of years ago, intellectual property is protected by copyright for 95 years or 70 years after the author dies, depending upon circumstances. I think the music and movie industries forced the change so they could capitalize on all the old content that they owned.
I personally think the length of time IP is protected by copyright is ridiculous and that work should pass into the public domain much sooner, where it can benefit society and culture as a whole. The Patent laws are much more sensible.
That date moves in lock step with Walt Disney's death date.
Ah yes, The Sonny Bono Congressional Act. I don't think it was based on Disney's death date, but rather the initial copyright date of a film. Because the copyright on Mickey Mouse, via Steamboat Willy, was about to run out. Are they going to buy a congressman again when that gets close to happening?
The OP is talking about patents, not copyright.
Good place to start: http://www.uspto.gov/
Well as the Original Poster, we're dealing with both now. This points actually to my question behind the question. When the A][ came out, you copywrited your software. Now they issue software patents. One person here is saying the firmware was copywritten, but now which set of regulations does it fall under?
Generally, design and other features are patented. The switching power supply was patented. The firmware in ROM was copyrighted. I missed that reference in your original post.
So, assuming that all of the patents have expired (which they probably have, since patents must be filed 1 year before publication in the US), you could build a physical clone of the Apple II or IIe, but you'd still need to get a work-alike ROM firmware.
Here is one such Apple II patent: 4,383,296