^The main problem with patents (as a legal safeguard) is that it's a system that favors the biggest and most powerful at the expense of the smaller innovator.
In a perfect world, some version of a patent enforcement service would level the playing field since individual patent holders soon learn that enforcement isn't a viable option unless you have very deep pockets. And that was how many of these patent trolls got started. They approached smaller patent holders with a story about how they could provide 'the muscle' an individual lacked for making sure their patent was enforceable.
But real problem began when the PTO began issuing patents for what amounts to nothing more than ideas or concepts instead of specific solutions
- which is something patents were never supposed to cover. Once that happened, things rapidly got out of control and landed us in the mess we're currently strugging with.
Patents and IP law has it's downside. Humanity has traditionally advanced by adopting and expanding on discoveries that went before. In many respects, the whole concept of "free open source" software was an attempt to codify that historic practice. Patents work against that.
But while the traditional practice of simply appropriating
successful innovations may have worked out well for the human race as a whole - it's definitely lacking when it comes to providing incentives for the individual innovator - which, in turn, slows progress.
Talk about a paradox.
There really is no easy solution to this issue.