The patent office is a government agency, you can get help with bureaucracies if you contact your local congressional home office. Let them know you are a small business owner trying to get answers regarding a government agency. You might be able to get constituent services help over the phone, or if you are just getting through to interns, then ask for a meeting at their local office.
Most IP attorneys that I know that work regularly with startups would be happy to sit down for 30 minutes and discuss this issue with you (free of charge). They may not be able to give you a definitive answer, but they would definitely let you know what questions to ask to arrive at it. As attorneys, we generally welcome opportunities to demonstrate our knowledge and skill, so that potential clients know that we are capable and experienced. Then, when you decide to patent (or institute a different type of IP protection plan), you will (hopefully) hire that attorney to help. So, my suggestion is to tap into your network and ask around about decent IP attorneys who might be willing to chat. Keep in mind that, just because you talk with an attorney doesn't meant they can bill you for it. Usually, you will have had to enter into an Engagement Letter or other agreement (where they tell you they are charging you) for their services before they are ethically and legally able to start charging you.
The first step you need to take is to do a patent search. This will tell you whether your idea has already received patent protection. Start here (https://www.google.com/?tbm=pts&gws_rd=ssl) with Google Patent search. You’ll also want to search the USPTO database (http://patft.uspto.gov). Conclude your search with a simple worldwide search here (http://worldwide.espacenet.com/?locale=en_EP).
Conducting a general search (e.g., text search using Google) for inventions similar to your own that haven’t been patented is also a good exercise. This will reveal whether others have already productized your idea, and if so, how your idea is different - and hopefully superior. You’ll often find that there are many expressions of unpatented ideas floating around the marketplace. This is a rich source of information for you if you’re considering patenting your innovation.
Remember, it may be tempting to skip all the “boring” tasks as a founder especially if the business is bootstrapping. However, such tasks will pay dividends to you later on down the road if something unfortunate should occur. That being said, check out LawTrades (www.lawtrades.com), where we connect inventors to affordable, accomplished lawyers on a daily basis.
First of all, you should understand that you can't just get a patent on everything, and I'm not sure if "the way I do business" is a thing that can be patented. You must give more information.
The best way to start is to Google it... you can learn about what is a patent, in Wikippedia or from other sites.
Look also at the EFF(Electronic Frontier Foundation) website.
Don't forget that answers here on Clarity are not legal
advise and at the end of the day you will probably have to go to a lawyer to consult..
This is a tough question to answer because you don't know what you need to know and yet you are ruling out paying for advise. I think the better question is what is the best way to determine how to achieve a competitive advantage in the market? This may involve business, marketing, financial, and legal advice, but is more likely what you are looking for. If you wanted patents, you would know that they are around 10K a pop just to get an application filed and that would already be in your budget.
If you came to me with your above question, I probably would think that success does not lie ahead. It would prevent me from investing or from buying into your product, offering, or vision.
Always search for and be willing to pay for what you ultimately want/need. In my opinion, this is the key to getting what you need to grow and scale. This is also key to planning your strategy moving forward.
There are two things you should never attempt to get a discount. 1) Legal advice 2) Accounting. Getting generals answers to questions on such an important subject could cost you long term. I understand not wanting to spend money and doing it for as little as possible, however if you entire business is built on a concept and you have overlooked one item it could cost you everything. Hiring proper legal counsel is worth every penny and it will give you the confidence you need to further the venture. You could introduce some of your questions to a website called avvo.com which allows you to post a question for free and get answers from a licensed attorney. Keep in mind that the city you put will be where you get attorneys responding. I'd suggest if you live in a small town to put a large city instead. Another options is to pick one of the top 10 biggest cities in the US to get more experienced attorneys. Just my personal rule of them, but I don't pick anyone that has less than ten years experience UNLESS they have tons of local awards and recognition. Good Luck! B
If you ask around, you can probably find a patent lawyer willing to evaluate your processes and features for patentability with little or now charge got the initial inquiry. After all, they don't want to work on non- patentable stuff.
Interview a few lawyers. It shouldn't cost much, if anything.