This is just my opinion.  Do your own research.

Especially when relating to inventions in this field, I question the actual usefulness of patents.  The more you look at the wide variety of designs that are documented in papers, magazines and those commercial products over the past decades it becomes apparent that most of the early work created the basic designs that have been repatented many times since.

Most if not all recent patents are rehashes of existing prior art.  One of the problems in this field in particular (and I'm sure many others) is the number of ways you can describe exactly the same design or physical principle.  So writing a new patent based entirely on previous designs is actually quite easy and a patent office is not going to be able to find prior art.  Diagrams can be obscured, wording completely changed.  For example it is interesting how few patents even mention the word loudspeaker when that is exactly what the design is. Instead they are "acoustic transducers" or "sound generators" or many alternatives and that is just the simplest of words.  When it comes to plasma or ions there's a multitude of ways (many totally valid) to descibe the exact same thing.

For the small inventor, the most common applicant in this area, the patent is now almost useless.  It costs a huge amount to get one, in one country.  Your design is then public knowledge for the world to see.  A worldwide patent is required in the modern internet world, costing an enormous amount and taking a long time during which period your design is public.  Once you gain the patent it offers no protection in itself.  You have to be aware of someone copying and creating a product you think is based on your design, take them to court at huge expense and with a high likelyhood of not winning as the prior art can be used against you.  Even a minor change in a design can mean your patent is not infringed.

One minor thing a patent may give a small inventor is some sort of proof that your design is original.  So if someone decides you are infringing their patents and takes you to court you may be able to use it as some sort of proof your design is different.  You can use expired patents in this way.  But I can't imagine that this would be something reliable to use and no more use than other less costly types of prior art.

It seems to be a common perception that a patent proves your design is unique and marketable. It is a long time since that has been the case if it ever was.  Venture capital and funding circles tend to treat a patent in this way. Their main interest is that it can be treated as part of a company's intellectual property portfolio that can go towards increasing the value of their investment when it comes time to sell.  It can only benefit the small inventor if used when selling a design to a company.

For a larger company they have the larger amounts of money required to patent and defend practically anything. They can use patents as a weapon to stifle any similar design and innovation by using money to drive a legal case.  Patents are essential for big business and they have the power to use them.

Because this field of work is small, those who are actually aware of it are low in number and those aware of how it works even fewer.  Having a new patent granted is quite likely.  One hope for this website is that it contains references to all the work that has been done and can therefore be used to help the smaller inventor by showing the prior art behind their own design.  It is very likely that a version your "new" idea is already out there and out of patent so it may at least save money trying to get a patent on a design that exists.

The smaller inventor or company is much better off keeping any unique element of their design as secret as possible and using the prior art information here as part of a defence should they be taken to court for infringing anothers patent.  Most patents that are still active can be invalidated with this prior art. The money saved from getting and maintaining their own patent can be put towards their defence.  In theory the money will be much more available if the product is successful than during the startup phase and if the product is unsuccessful then no money has been made to be worth defending.

Of course they are a huge resource of information when researching, very helpful.

In short, patents:
Do not prove your invention is unique
Do not mean your product is marketable
Broadcast your intellectual property to the world
Offer no active protection
Cost a huge amount to get
Cost a huge amount to defend

Compared to trademarks which are cheap, useful and defendable patents have lost their way.

Just my fourthpenneth.
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