The main thing to consider with a patent is, is it a design patent or a patent of "how it works". If it is a design patent then you are alright to change the look feel, cosmetically different, make it better as you mention. If it is a "how it works" patent, my advice is stay away from it and move on. Sometimes patents are country specific, however you would have to look at the longevity of a product that may eventually have a patent taking away your rights to selling it. My advice is walk away from patented products period.
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