Not sure how many people are paying attention to the Apple/Samsung lawsuit that started recently. Apple says Samsung stole its patented ideas, Samsung says Apple stole its patented ideas.
I'm going to gloss over a lot here to simplify the discussion and keep it from growing into a novel but there seem to be two patents getting a lot of attention. Apple says Samsung stole its design ideas (primary concern seems to be the rectangular design with curved corners). Samsung says Apple stole its ideas for handling traffic, giving priority to voice signals over data signals to avoid dropped calls. Yes, there are other things both are accusing the others of. Certain touch screen features, user interface features, data transfer features. However, these two claims have been garnering most of the attention in the media I've seen.
Now, I am hardly a patent law expert. However, both of these patents seem to my lay person understanding to be questionable at best. You can't be granted a patent if your invention is "obvious". Isn't it obvious that, with a smartphone-size screen, the smartphone should be rectangular in shape? Isn't it obvious that, when holding that hard plastic rectangle in your hand, rounded corners would make it more comfortable? Likewise, isn't it obvious that, if voice and data are going to collide with each other, voice should win since dropped data will result in retrying later while dropped voice results in a dropped phone call? Some of the other patents might have a little more ground to stand on but these two seem to fail this basic test. The others, in my opinion, are not original ideas or were (obvious) logical extensions of prior work (gestures like pinch-to-zoom or functions like sharing a picture would be examples of functionality that existed before the iPhone or barely extended functionality that did).
Who stands to benefit from this? Well, if one of these companies wins, it could get a windfall of cash.
Who stands to lose? Everyone.
This is the real problem. Patents are granted way too easily. Most, if not all, of the patents being argued over in this lawsuit, in my opinion, shouldn't have been granted. As a result of these patents and many like them being granted, everyone who designs a new product or writes a new piece of software has to look over their shoulder for fear of violating a patent they might not even know about.
I'm not suggesting no patents should be granted. If you come up with a truly innovative idea, you should be able to patent it and protect it from being copied by Apple, Samsung, Google, Microsoft, or any other corporation - large or small - or any individual without proper renumeration. However, when patents are granted to obvious designs like a rectangular smartphone with curved corners or to incremental advances in technology like a user interface redesign or a new touchscreen gesture, we end up with less incentive to innovate. That leads to everyone, from small startups to large corporations to the consumer, losing out.