It is said that something like 90% of the technology disclosed in US Patents is not disclosed elsewhere. This makes patents a valuable source for information on new technology and trends.
Some will only go to the patents and inventions of the past to see if their own invention can be patented over this prior art. However, for someone who is developing a new widget, those existing patents on widgets contain a wealth of ideas on what works and what doesn't work. Patents pertaining to related technologies may produce ideas also.
Of course, you may not want to develop something already covered by an existing patent, but that doesn't mean you can't get ideas from what has been done in the past-and not only in the particular technology you are working in, but also in related areas.
After all, that is what the contract we discussed above is all about. Existing patents should be viewed not only as 'the competition', but also as a sort of encyclopedia of information, knowledge and ideas in your development process.