fermion writes "This weeks 'Who Made That' column in The New York Times concerns the built in pencil eraser. In 1858 Hymen Lipman put a rubber plug into the wood shaft of a pencil. An investor then paid about 2 million in today's dollars for the patent. This investor might have become very rich had the supreme court not ruled that all Lipmen had done was put together two known technologies, so the patent was not valid. The question is where has this need for patents to be innovative gone? After all there is the Amazon one-click patent which, after revision, has been upheld. Microsoft Activesync technology patent seems to simply patent copying information from one place to another. In this modern day do patents promote innovation, or simply protect firms from competition?"