The corporations and speculators who have been abusing software patents have this in their favour: it's hard for the layman to understand the significance of something like this:
Consider, for instance, patent 5,175,857, which covers a "System for sorting records having sorted strings each having a plurality of linked elements each element storing next record address." What the '857 patent describes is a quicksort implemented with a linked list. Such patents are extremely detrimental to innovation because they apply serious encumbrances to the foundational building blocks of computer programming.Or, to translate roughly, if people are allowed to patent the wheel, it stifles innovation among car manufacturers (environmentalists can calm down, someone has already patented the wheel).
This piece at Ars Technica is a good summary of a problem that is already costing businesses and therefore consumers more than $11B a year.