I retired in April 2013 after 25 years as a librarian at the British Library specialising in inventions. This included running numerous workshops; writing books on inventions and a work blog; carrying out searches for clients; and one-to-one meetings with inventors. [more]


26 January 2014

The patents for e-cigarettes

Electronic or e-cigarettes are designed to aid smoking cessation by being a replacement. Users still get the nicotine kick, but without the tar-related side effects. Its rapid growth has been helped, if not necessarily caused, by the widespread bans on smoking in public places such as bars, restaurants and workplaces.

Now the UK government has announced that it wants to stop its sale to under 18 year olds, which will be its first restriction in the country.

The first patent specification is widely attributed to A non-smokable electronic aerosol cigarette, filed in 2003 -- which is in Chinese. This invention, by Hon Lik, a Chinese pharmacist, used a piezoelectric ultrasound-emitting element to vaporise a pressurized jet of liquid containing nicotine diluted in a propylene glycol solution. The smoke-like vapour is inhaled so that nicotine is delivered into the bloodstream via the lungs. Propylene glycol dilutes nicotine and places it in a disposable plastic cartridge which serves as a liquid reservoir and mouthpiece. The drawing is given below.

A different design, though, was used in the electronic cigarettes that were first introduced to the Chinese domestic market in May 2004 as an aid for smoking cessation and replacement. The company that Hon Lik worked for, Golden Dragon Holdings, changed its name to Ruyan (which means "Resembling smoking"), and started exporting its products in 2005. They have a number of patents. This is a list of US patent documents (some for designs rather than utility) by Hon Lik.

An important variant, and improvement, is the "cartomizer", which was invented by brothers Umer and Tariq (“Taz”) Sheikh, from Woking, Surrey. They had worked in IT recruitment but soon realised, Umer has said, that “rather than working for someone else and making them lots of money, we would do it for ourselves,” and formed their own company in that business. A smoking ban in enclosed work places in England was to come into force in 2007, and Umer wanted to quit smoking, so the brothers decided to "have a punt" and to invent a product for the market.

They worked with an engineering team in China to develop a prototype. In 2008 they filed for what was patented in the UK as A method and apparatus related to electronic smoking-substitute devices, with a US application pending, and is sold as the Gamucci brand, which is growing fast. The Gamucci website has the slogan "Like smoking, only better." The heating coil is integrated into the liquid chamber. This is instead of the original three components: a cartridge containing a nicotine dilution, an atomisation device and a battery. It has been named as the first European electronic cigarette. The above information on the Sheikhs is largely based on the interesting article in City AM, Brothers who took a punt on a new market. The drawing from their patent is given below.

While e-cigarettes are promoted as a way for smokers to control or even stop smoking, there are concerns that it could be a way for young people to take up smoking. Many electronic cigarettes look like “the real thing”. Worries about possible health risks have led to some countries talking of restricting its use, as in the UK. Others argue that they are as safe as other nicotine replacement products such as patches. Another problem is that someone told off for smoking in a non-smoking area may be innocently “smoking” an electronic cigarette.

A forerunner, though not actually an “electronic” cigarette, was Herbert Gilbert’s Smokeless non-tobacco cigarette, filed in 1963. A nicotine solution was heated and steam came out of the smoker’s lips. Gilbert was approached by companies interested in commercialising his invention, but this did not come about. Its drawings are given below.

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