Patents are tricky. Everyone believe/hopes they have something the can patent. This is not an all encompassing discussion as I recommend a patent attorney to help if you still believe after reading this that you have something. The other caution is it is not cheap but as with everything there may be solutions. The best source of information on patents I have found is the US Patent Website. Below of have provided some useful information from the site.
Types of Patents
There are three types of patents:
1) Utility patents may be granted to anyone who invents or discovers any new and useful process, machine, article of manufacture, or composition of matter, or any new and useful improvement thereof;
2) Design patents may be granted to anyone who invents a new, original, and ornamental design for an article of manufacture; and
3) Plant patents may be granted to anyone who invents or discovers and asexually reproduces any distinct and new variety of plant.
Here in lies a lot of the confusion. You can patent the usage of something. If you determined that salad dressing could cure cancer, you could probably patent that. I exadurate a little to make a point. A process (a way of doing something) can be patented if no one else has thought of it or done it.
Designs are pretty obvious -- the umbrella. The USPTO has a pretty good explanation on their site that you may want to watch. Patent Search It teaches you how to search for a Patent.
Novelty And Non-Obviousness, Conditions For Obtaining A Patent
In order for an invention to be patentable it must be new as defined in the patent law, which provides that an invention cannot be patented if:
“(1) the claimed invention was patented, described in a printed publication, or in public use, on sale, or otherwise available to the public before the effective filing date of the claimed invention” or
“(2) the claimed invention was described in a patent issued [by the U.S.] or in an application for patent published or deemed published [by the U.S.], in which the patent or application, as the case may be, names another inventor and was effectively filed before the effective filing date of the claimed invention.”
In other words: if you or anyone has sold it or it is not unique, you could have a problem. I believe there is also an issue if you do not keep it secret, so be sure and require a non-disclosure/non-compete before you let someone no what the "secret sauce" is.