I'm fairly sure that they pay for the patent office people with fees from those applying for patents. In fact, until recently, 10% of their fee revenue was diverted to the general fund - meaning not only were they not costing the taxpayers anything, they were generating revenue.
Yeah, companies probably have better things to do with their times, but the people that generate and file patents are different than those who do manufacturing. Unless you know a lot of lawyers who work on a factory line or similar ;) Besides, if they're not being jerks with their portfolio, how does it hurt anyone? Heck, it probably provides some high paying jobs.
That said, I still think absurd patents are absurd.