Did The Chinese “Steal” E-cigarette Designs From The Americans?

Did The Chinese “Steal” E-cigarette Designs From The Americans?


Now this is a very serious question which implies grave consequences. If you are a frequent visitor on some of the major vaping forums, you probably have witnessed quite a few furious polemics regarding the said topic and you’ll perceive the informed and the arrogant, the unbiased and the prejudiced, the mild and the aggressive, on both sides. But, let’s make some investigations on this grievous accusation before we reach a definitive conclusion, and let us bear in mind that if that the late comer produces something better by imitating an established concept/product constitutes a crime, then we really need to review the many inventions which have powered up the U.S. economy but whose first appearances and the intellectual labor invested in which were on the other side of the Atlantic. This is not to meddle things up, but to apply the same standard to cases that interest us, just to be fair. For if “theft” is defined as one thing in this case, and its definition changes drastically in another, this discussion could hardly have any meaning.

First thing first, the history of E-cigarettes. According to Wikipedia, the earliest E-cigarette can be traced to American Herbert A. Gilbert, who in 1963 patented “a smokeless non-tobacco cigarette” that involved “replacing burning tobacco and paper with heated, moist, flavored air”. If we do not consider the fact that unknown to many, in 1927 a Joseph Robison came up with the idea of an electronic cigarette (according to vaping daily, for more information, visit https://vapingdaily.com/what-is-vaping/vaping-history/), then Herbert A. Gilbert is no doubt the inventor of the first E-cigarettes, even though his achievement received little attention and was never commercialized.

In 2003, Hon Lik, a Chinese pharmacist and inventor registered a patent for the modern E-cigarette. The E-cigarette was first introduced to Chinese domestic market in 2004 and many versions made their way to the U.S., sold mostly over the Internet by small marketing firms. The company Lik worked for, Golden Dragon Holdings, later known as “Ruyan”, and then Dragonite International Limited, registered an international patent in November 2007 and started exporting its products. Many U.S. and Chinese E-cig makers copied his design illegally, so Lik has not received much financial reward for his invention (although some U.S. manufacturers have compensated him though out of court settlements).

In 2007 British entrepreneurs Umer and Tariq Sheikh invented the cartomizer. Other users from all over the world experimented with various parts and produced more satisfactory homemade devices, starting the trend for “modding”.

In 2009, Joyetech developed the eGo series. After that hundreds of E-cigarette manufacturers emerged to compete for market, but eventually it is the Chinese who out-produced the rest of the world combined, international tobacco companies included, and completely dominated the multi-billion dollar market.

Enough history. I think by now most people would be able to judge for themselves. If there are acts of theft, who stole from whom?

If anyone would think that because Gilbert is the first person ever to have made an Electronic Cigarette, this action renders all later efforts in the same area criminal, then I would argue that Henry Ford in his U.S. factory mass produced cars that looked not very much different than those in Germany, which appeared about 15 years ago. I would also argue that from 1942 to 1945 during World War II, the U.S. Army procured about 30,000 Sherman M4, which certainly were still tanks, and which were invented by the British in 1916. Many other things are liable to go through the same examination if the logic that late comers are thieves is to be universally applied.

Here I am not acquitting the transgressions of the culprits who explicitly and criminally copy without compensation the intellectual properties of another, though the very ethic of IP laws is open to dispute, which is not our topic here today. I respect IP laws, but only when they are kept in proper boundaries. No one is safe when every genius declares absolute ownership after he has made something or merely thought of an idea, like the imperial Columbus who planted Spanish flags on every piece South American soil he stepped on.

E-cigarette is a great invention, but its being invented in one place and one time should not impede its birth in another place at another time. Let us be honest, atomizers all look alike, and most mods look similar, just as all cars do, and if every new product were to register a patent, granting patent would be a hotter business than vaping. I do not deny that at certain times, there might have been infringement of IP laws, committed by both the U.S. companies and Chinese companies, but to blame everything on the Chinese simply because they make over 80% of the products on the market is an exhibition of narrowness and unhealthy prejudice.

If anyone has anything different to say, you are welcome to leave your comment below.

Tags: E-cigarette, Vaping

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