I've heard this kind of argument on Slashdot, where it is claimed that patents aren't for small inventors or as in your case, that they small inventors do not use them, and attempted to counter it then, that time with examples of small inventors. I believe that it is quite false. I will now engage in some self-plagiarism and list those same inventors again, since their inventions are still among those which capture the mechanically oriented parts of my imagination the most and because I've already committed this self-plagiarism this morning in Swedish.
The first one is a English professor, Kais Atallah, whose invention was a type of magnetic gear, to which he got he obtained a patent, enabling the production to be funded. The second Torbjörn Lembke, whose invention was a magnetic bearing. He had worked in industry, both, I believe, on different kinds of magnetic bearings and on other advanced electrical machines, had an idea for an improvement of today's magnetic bearings, wrote a PhD dissertation on it, patented it before publishing and presently manufactures it, after having gotten funding.
You might not call these real garage inventors, but I have a last example. Glenn Thompson, an Australian programmer, who, after what must have been quite careful thought, found a way to make a new kind of constant velocity joint (now called a Thompson Coupling). He patented this, having gotten the patent, got investors and has now," "having gotten funded, been manufacturing and selling these joints for some years.
If it weren't for patents these people would likely have obtained minimal reward for their work. If you have an invention, patents do protect it. You might say that they if they were "real small inventors" wouldn't have money to sue, but I imagine that such even a small inventor, with no money and only a good patent, would even in America, be able to take his case to court and win with enough probability to deter patent infringement. At worst such an inventor might be forced to find a lawyer to take his case on contingency.
As stated in the introduction I've essentially varied a previous post
, but since what you wrote is so similar to what I responded to I felt that this was acceptable.