Today's wall st journal (pg B2) has a opinion piece by Bruce Lehman, who was commissioner of Patents and Trademarks from 1993 to 1999. The title is "Don't Fear Software Patents". His makes several points, namely that the consumer product industry has used patents successfully for years. (I remember having this discussion over and over during a point in my career when I spend a lot of time in Japan trying to strike OEM deals for embedded Java software). And, that if software patent protection is weakened in the rest of the world, there will be an incentive for software development to move so that it can take advantage of patent protection where it exists. There is a lot of passionate discussion today on how software patents are weakening innovation, and I think this article is useful if for no other reason than to present a case for why this may not be such an obvious conclusion.
I have read about the notion of a patent commons, which seems like an innovative idea. Interestingly, it would not seem to be that different in concept to what the Japanese consumer electronics industry has done for many years. (disclaimer... I don't claim to be an expert in this by any means.)