I was suggested to come here to ask this question- didn't even know this board existed. Hopefully I can get some info here.
Onto the Q:
I'm about to launch a startup that specializes in advertising. The central core of the startup is that it allows everyday people to advertise for cheap. Nothing has been trademarked or patented. I plan to trademark the domain and establish an LLC if it takes off. Those two things are easy. What I'm concerned about is the patent.
Since the business is basically an online service, I'm not sure if I can patent anything. Here's a hypothetical example:
Traditionally, if you wanted to advertise in a magazine, you'd pay a hefty fee to the publisher. Let's say through my service, you pay a monthly fee through my site and get your ads published for a steep discount. Let's assume that there are other companies out there that have done something similar, but just assume they have a very different process of doing it. My process works by doing it as cheaply as possible using a cost-effective approach.
I want to patent this approach, but I'm not sure if it's eligible. I'm pretty sure that although there's companies accomplishing the same goal (getting your ads in the paper), they don't have the same process of doing it. I don't think there's any company out there that practices my approach. It involves simple things like contacting publishers and setting up flat rates instead of negotiating every ad, bulk orders, or monthly flat payment for service, etc.
It's basically a mix of small steps to make one giant process that saves people money. The steps individually aren't really new, but when put together it's non-obvious and new. Can I patent this process? If someone copies the process but makes slight change in one step, would that be infringement?
I have no income from this startup and can't afford a patent. I plan to file a provisional patent with LegalZoom. I'm guessing I just write down the entire process and try to file it as a business method and send it off as a single provisional patent. Hopefully they have some kind of accuracy check to make sure I'm doing it right. Would you advise this?