The rise in patents has taken place since 2005 when there were just eight in existence. By 2012 there were 220 patents.
Recent patents have included things such as the use of an e-cig as a vitamin delivery system, caffeinated vapes (instead of nicotine) and the future possibility of linking to a computer in order to pay per puff. The last one harking back to the quitting concept featured in The Fifth Element where Korben Dallas used a dispenser in his room.
Phillip Morris’ PAYG e-cig allows the user to purchase a certain quantity of doses via a computer app connected to the cigalike. It also covers the ability for the user to preselect a cut-off limit on puffs. How useful this would be in practice is a matter of debate.
The driving force behind this patent rush is firstly that China has 300 million smokers to market to but also they see the potential for patents to be bought in the future by Big Tobacco or used in law suits. Such ideas don’t have to be market-leading ideas, they just have to be original and have the potential to be included in future design concepts.
Bob Stembridge, senior patent analyst at Thomson Reuters IP and Science, said: “Patenting globally is rising significantly year on year, driven by Chinese patenting generally. But I would say the e-cigarette field is growing faster than the general trend, and the bias toward China is greater than in global patenting.”
Hon Lik’s original patent in 2003 was part of a $75million deal that took his company into the ownership of Imperial Tobacco – who immediately set about using it to sue rivals for patent infringement.
Thompson Reuters have tracked new product development and of 2,000 electronic cigarette inventions 64% originate in China, America in second place with just 14%.
Companies obtaining recent patents include VitaCigs (to deliver vitamins and supplements such as valerian and collagen), Energy Shisha (a caffeinated vaping stick) and Fuma International (THC, the active chemical in cannabis).