@brian.shapiro: Is it?
Think what if Apple registered patent for GUI OS (and success). We would not have Windows to use today because with the copies of Windows sold, the license fee would be prohibitively expensive. We'll probably have to stay with OS/2 variants, or use a Mac.
And we probably wouldn't see Steve Jobs go back to Apple, because Apple would either win the OS market by offering the only affordable GUI OS, or get enough money from Microsoft so it wouldn't suffer financial crisis. And that means we wouldn't have iPod, iPad and iPhone to use.
For most technology companies, the only point of hiring people to do R&D is to keep the technological advantage against competitors, safety on technological leading advantage will kill their budget therefore inhibits innovations.
There's a reason Apple wasn't successful.
But these issues aren't different between software and physical technology, at any rate.