Alex Witowski spoke last month at Hardware Massive in Oakland on the topic of patent law. It was a great learning experience. Personally, I have something like 8 patents and often use patent searches for inspiration. I also feel that patents are quite stifling and most of the patents I review (which are typically single use plastic things) really surprises me that they were given in the first place. But, on the flipside, a patent is a reward for your invention.