Most software companies large and small don’t depend on patents as a key part of their business strategy, especially when they’re starting out.
Instead, they keep their key technology as a trade secret, focus on non-technological differentiators, and use sales and marketing savvy to make their way.
My software company is a start-up. We do have patents, but we’re not relying on them to be successful. We rely on solving customer problems. Customers come to us and stay happy with us because we provide problem-solving “smarts” and excellent customer service.
The patents protect us from some other company inventing the same stuff, patenting it, and then suing us.
Companies succeed because they have intelligence, energy, experience, a deep and appreciative understanding of their customers, and luck.
Many software companies fail because the founders are more interested in either technology or money than in customers.
Unfortunately, the free-market economy leaves out people who spend lots of time, money, and effort developing something and then only want enough money from it to continue inventing. They often get beaten out all the way around by entrepreneurs who care less about technology than about business.
I’m chiefly thinking of the Wright brothers here. They were always circumspect about their technology and fought patent infringement hard, because they wanted to make enough money to continue their research without having to spend time in business.