I worked for a really innovative engineering company that produced audio visual equipment used in hospitals. Because the company was small we could develop products on a crazy fast schedule. A lot of the new products were the brainchild of the super smart and business savvy owner. I worked with him directly on several patent applications and was trained by patent lawyers that worked for our major investor.
What I learned from the owner was that if you have a really bright idea, and you a small company, it makes a lot of sense to just go out there and build it and get it on the market than it does to patent the idea first. The little companies fly under the radar a lot, and the patent process is slow.
What I learned from the patent lawyers is that it's really a big boy's game, and the obligation of the patent holder to defend their patent. So, say you infringed on this patent, well - sue me! Of course you take a risk, and it'd be expensive if you choose to fight an infringement suit, but it's very expensive to bring one of those suits - millions of dollars. So, make your competitor spend it, or just stop once they send you a cease and desist letter.
I'm not advocating that everyone go out and violate intellectual property laws, but saying that mostly it's the large companies with stables of lawyers that really pay attention and have to adhere to patent law. Smaller companies should use their money more wisely on R&D because then they can become the existing market standard ahead of other, larger companies that are slowed by the patent process.