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The Boston Globe

Business

Website makes seeking a patent more affordable

Highlights from boston.com/hive, Boston’s source for innovation news.

Omer Dar and his team at SocialBox knew they had a great idea: a 21st century photo booth that lets users edit pictures and take video and doubles as a corporate marketing tool. But Dar feared the young company could not afford to protect its idea with a patent, until he discovered SmartUp, an online service that connects fledgling businesses to patent attorneys offering discounted legal advice.

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“Finding out about this website basically saved us because it made [getting a patent] affordable,” said Dar, who cofounded SocialBox last year.

SmartUp is the brainchild of a UMass Amherst grad, Mikhail Avady, who said he observed a problem among his entrepreneurial friends: They were either breaking the bank by patenting their innovations with the aid of high-priced intellectual property law firms or winding up with less-than-airtight protections after using do-it-yourself online guides.

Avady designed SmartUp as a middle ground. A step-by-step questionnaire helps an entrepreneur generate a draft patent application, then a real attorney offers advice, usually by phone or e-mail. For $350, a SmartUp-affiliated lawyer makes suggestions about how to improve an application. For $600, the lawyer will make revisions, and for $900 will write the entire application, from start to finish.

Even at the highest level of service, that’s a steep discount. Avady said his research found legal fees of $2,500 to $5,000 to be common.

Though Avady has moved to Atlanta and based his company there, SmartUp is becoming a go-to partner for start-up incubators in Massachusetts, where Avady grew up.

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The company signed an in-kind sponsorship agreement with MassChallenge in June and is working with Bolt, Future Boston, and Running Start.

“I went to every single accelerator and incubator I could in Boston — went to their events, spoke to their people to see if they would be interested in our service,” Avady said. “The response was amazing. They knew that their members had this need.”

For now, SmartUp has four attorneys on its roster: one in Boston, one in Silicon Valley, and two in Atlanta. They accept reduced fees, Avady explained, because “this is a step to start building a relationship with clients that are probably going to get a lot bigger soon. You know, Google was a start-up at one point.”

SocialBox, which participated in SmartUp’s pilot phase earlier this year, is growing and already is taking its business back to the Atlanta attorney who helped it receive a provisional patent.

“Now that we’re a bit bigger and have the funds, we’re going back for more legal work,” Dar said. “You go with who you trust.”

Callum Borchers

Foodler goes north of the border The Boston-based online food-ordering and rating service Foodler plans to announce its first international expansion Thursday, launching partnerships with about 150 restaurants in Vancouver.

The nine-year-old company already covers the continental United States, offering takeout from more than 12,000 restaurants, and is ready to venture beyond US borders, said co-founder Christian Dumontet. Canada is a logical fit for Foodler because its time zones mirror those of the United States.

And: “The weather is not great, which means people stay indoors a lot and order food.”

Foodler’s foray into Canada marks another milestone for the company, after it unveiled a new rating system that allows users to score individual dishes, instead of entire restaurants, on a five-star scale. The system helps Foodler distinguish itself from competitors Yelp and GrubHub by giving diners more specific information about menu items.

Frequent users of Foodler, which is available on desktop browsers and as a free mobile application, receive personalized recommendations, based on their ordering history and which dishes are highly rated at a given restaurant.

Early on, the ratings for Vancouver restaurants will be less meaningful because they will be based on small sample sizes, but Dumontet said the quality of feedback will rise as more Canadians use the service.

The company has hired a small sales team to help expand its brand in Canada, with Toronto next on the destination list.

This choreographed launch is a far cry from Foodler’s start-up phase in Boston.

“We couldn’t afford to do any advertising,” Dumontet recalled.

“We literally went door to door. I stood on Commonwealth Avenue handing out flyers, asking people to order pizza that night. We don’t have to do that anymore.”

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