I just tried out Google Patents, and it's pretty cool. You can check out the idb backup patent from dcoombs at my last company (which has been continuing to improve the technology; after I left, they finally released some of the coolest parts that we'd been working on for more than 3 years).
In general, I'm against the software patent system because it's pointless - I just can't believe that less great software would be written just because you couldn't patent it. And because it's pointless and takes resources and works best if lawyers write as incomprehensibly as possible, it's also inefficient and gross on any number of levels.
Venture capitalists sure do like it if you have a patent or two in your name, though.
I do like the original idea of patents: society gives people a limited time monopoly on a particular invention, but in exchange for that, they have to give society something really valuable in exchange: the knowledge of how they did it.
Google Patents is cool because it at least helps society benefit from the patent information it paid so dearly for.
Now, if only Google Translate had a "legalese to English" button.