One of the common justifications for TRIZ is that its tools have been deducted in an analysis of patents. When I worked with G.S.Altshuller in the 70s, he talked of about 50,000 patents (actually, in the former USSR they were "inventor certificates" rather than "patents"). Later in various TRIZniks' articles I saw higher and higher numbers: 500,000 - 2,000,000 - ... What do these numbers really mean and how this "analysis" was performed, are separate questions, but behind all such claims there is an assumption that patents have something to do - that they rather have a lot to do - with technical problems solving and technical systems evolution.
Well, it can be argued - quite successfully - that patents have much more to do with legal, financial, economic, social, cultural, etc., systems, which makes patents a very shaky foundation for a theory of inventive problem solving or for a theory of technical systems evolution. Some patents talk for themselves.
For example, I've recently learned that in October 2002, just a little more than a year ago, Carl Hanson of St. Paul, MN, was granted US patent No. 6,457,474 for a method of alleviating chest pain that stems from the heart. The patent consists of 17 (seventeen) claims, refers to Nytroglycerin as a prior art, shows three examples of preferred embodiments, and describes a unique invention, which comprises: (a) noticing a pain in the chest; and then shortly thereafter (b) taking lime juice into the body to alleviate the chest pain.
His patent said that it worked for him, and he wrote the required details about the structure of the invention, specifically, to purchase cans of concentrate, add water, stir and introduce the juice into the body through the mouth (although Hanson wrote that his patent would also cover intravenous administration).
At first, I couldn't believe what I read, but a quick search in US Patent Library proved it to be true. Then, I asked myself if this invention supports TRIZ principles. The analysis has shown that it does, in many ways. Here is one of them.
Let's look into a technical contradiction. The chest pain typically is associated with an insufficient supply of blood to a portion of the heart. So, a "feature to be improved" is Volume of moving object. One of the problems with Nytroglycerin is, When taking nitroglycerin, patients put the tablet under their tongue and wait about two-to-four minutes for the tablet to dissolve. It is sometimes not easy for the patient to ascertain if the medicine has been properly ingested. The patient then waits approximately five minutes for the angina attack to go away. So, a "worsening feature" is Loss of Time.
One of the principles suggested by the TRIZ technical contradiction matrix for this contradiction is 10. Preliminary action. Especially check this: B. Pre-arange objects that they can come into action from the most convenient place. Compare to the Hanson's invention: Since the juice is regularly stored in the refrigerator or freezer, it can be quickly located by the patient, particularly at nighttime where the refrigerator light plays a helpful role. Bingo!
If one wanted to find other TRIZ principles used in this invention,
it wouldn't be difficult. Here are some:
The lime juice can be easily administered by, for example, placing about one-fourth teaspoon or more of frozen concentrate lime juice in the mouth, letting it dissolve, and swallowing. - 36. Phase transitions.
The inventor also discovered that by consuming lime juice regularly, for example, by drinking about at least a glass daily in non-concentrate form, that chest pain did not occur and would not reoccur. - 20. Continuity of useful action.
Lime juice has a very noticeable taste that disappears after it leaves the mouth. - 23. Feedback.
Lime juice also costs much less than nitroglycerin, which typically runs about $10 to $15 for a bottle that contains about thirty pills. - 27. Cheap short-living objects.
... limes are a naturally occurring product meant for digestion ... - 25. Self-service.
Persons skilled in the art of purification and/or pharmacology may also locate the active ingredient(s) in the lime and administer those ingredient(s) in purified form - 28. Mechanics substitution.
Analysing patents would be quite useful in a research on application and misuse of patent law, but their use in a theory of problem solving and/or technical systems evolution is very suspicious. If a ridiculous patent supports such a theory, does it make the theory ridiculous too?
P.S. I believe that as early as in the 70s Altshuller realized that the "40 principles" and the "contradiction matrix" are not a right way and stopped developing and using them and, I think, didn't consider them a part of TRIZ (as opposed to being a part of ARIZ-xx). It is significant that just these, the earliest, the most primitive and abandoned, precursors of TRIZ are the favorite topics of nincompoops from TRIZ-Journal.