Updated: One of the commenters (anonymous - sorry, no attribution possible) posted this link: http://www.totallyabsurd.com/archive.htm. Funny, veeeery funny. Clearly NOT just a software issue - though I'm not sure I've seen the level of abuse outside the software business.
Is it me or does patent litigation seem COMPLETELY out of control? I mean, the absurdity of the "compliance" in some cases should maybe indicate to us that the inmates are running the asylum. Not that I have a particular sympathy for Microsoft, NTP, or even AOL (*ahem* us) in the broad sense on this - if you're indeed stomping on somebody's rights you should be stopped, big or small... but lately it seems like the letter of the law trampling over the spirit.
This doesn't seem to encourage innovation - it rewards speculative litigation and (what I view as) extortive licensing schemes. Somewhere along the way people arrived at this notion that just being smart, in and of itself, is a reason to get paid millions of dollars. Just because you're speculatively solving a problem that no one needed to solve YET doesn't (necessarily) make it novel or valuable - the patent process isn't supposed to be about being the mental Columbus; its supposed to reward INNOVATION, not discovery.
Ideas are EASY. Everybody's got an IDEA - for a book, a movie, a product, a company; sorry, BFD - "I have an idea..." seems like it is only SLIGHTLY higher on the value chain than "I really want this..." (and slightly below, "I know this guy..."). As Frank Herbert famously said (paraphrased), "Its writing that's the hard part". Perhaps I take umbrage because I believe in meritocracies and deriving value from ambushing successful companies, seem like, I dunno, not meritocratic...
Its not that I don't believe in intellectual property or its value in encouraging creativity, innovation, and value creation (quite the contrary) - it just that it seems like its become such an abstraction with this whole "software as process thing" that judging and valuing novel improvements in such a fast moving field has become very, very clouded.
Maybe its because software copyrights are all wrong? Copyrights seems to work much better in the music industry (overzealous RIAA tactics aside :P). They (in practice) protect the OUTPUT, that is, how the music sounds - not what instrument you used or how you played it. I think the obvious, but perhaps incorrect, extension to the software world was to copyright the CODE - just as you do the "music" (notes and arrangement), not the product (UI, algorithms, workflows, etc.). But perhaps that was a BIG mistake?... there isn't the same monotone relationship (no pun intended) between code and product as there is between notes and songs.
Or it could be as simple as some better way to judge the value of the patent with regard to the success and/or value of the infringing product/service... but the medical and insurance industries have been struggling with this for years, and it IS complicated.
Scrapping software patents completely seems extreme - I think we'd be back to secrecy and industrial espionage being the order of the day.
...I dunno - somehow it just feels like people are playing patent roulette at the expense of both the public (courts) and the private (shareholders) ... $100k on 13 black, please...