Via Ezra Klein most recently, I offer you the Tabarrok curve. It supposedly shows that some patent protection is good, but too much is bad. I agree with this. Most recently, I wrote about it in regards to Apple, which has always been on the forefront of stupid and evil patent disputes. Perhaps you’ve heard that Apple has the patent on the rectangular phone.
The patent system is broken, although I’m not clear that it ever really worked. Dean Baker is the most innovative thinker I know of when it comes to these issues. I recommend reading Robert Samuelson Shows Us How Patents Monopolies Impose Enormous Costs With Medical Technology for a very brief introduction.