Martin Fowler has an interesting article on software patents. He does note the common claim that patents in general enabled the Industrial Revolution, something I am not completely convinced of, but he makes the great point that they were a limited scope item back then. While 14 years is forever today, it was barely a blip with the very slow rate of change at the time.
I do think that people still would have invented things that would make their life and work simpler, with patent protection, though it may (or may not) have gone a bit differently than it did.
I especially like his note
The tragedy is that patents have become a source of reinforcing existing powers. A big company may find patents a significant inconvenience, but in the end patents are good for perpetuating the current power-holders because they can snuff out the smaller ones. This is why it's hard to change the system, those with the power have no incentive to give it up.
Whatever its origins, it is really a tool of big businesses and large organizations to squish the competition now, rather than to provide for a growing competitive marketplace.
The goal should be enabling innovation, not rewarding those with the legal resources to bash those who would compete with them.
Kill the software patent now!