Prof. Ronald Mann of the Univ. of Texas Law School has posted a working paper on The Myth of the Software Patent Thicket: An Empirical Investigation of the Relationship Between Intellectual Property and Innovation in Software Firms (Feb. 2004) on the Social Sciences Research Network.
He says: "The paper presents evidence about existing practices in the industry [that] suggests that technology in fact is readily available, rebutting the prominent claims of a patent 'thicket' that is supposedly stifling innovation in the industry. On the contrary, I argue, to the extent patents have an important effect in the industry, it is an effect that inures primarily to the benefit of the smaller firms trying to find a foothold from which they can compete."
This is a crucial general point -- protection of IP is vital to innovators and entrepreneurs. If IP cannot be propertized, then the competitive advantages conferred on large organizations with established marketing organizations, financing, brand recognition, and government contacts become insurmountable. I have always found it ironic that the academic copy leftists are in fact arguing for a world dominated by elephantine institutions -- but then many of them are part of this world, of which large universities are a powerful segment.