You have probably noticed that “vaping” has become extremely trendy and quite controversial due to its appeal to teenagers and the potential harm it causes to users. Yes, the puffs of white vapor that fill the air on sidewalks and other busy areas might be annoying to bystanders and passers-by, but the related activity occupying the time of patent authorities around the world suggests that vaping might be here to stay. While scientists continue to put their resources towards uncovering potential vaporizer-related health risks, many inventors and investors are betting heavily on patentable vaporizer technology and innovation.

What Is A Vaporizer?

Currently, the side effects of vaping are largely unknown. Some argue that using a vaporizer to enjoy tobacco, cannabis, herbs, or otherwise is the healthy alternative to smoking. We know when a person takes a puff of a lit cigarette, they inhale smoke that results from the process of combustion. Aside from the many harmful chemicals and additives found in most cigarettes and inhaled by a smoker, the smoke itself can be especially detrimental to the lungs and body. Some hypothesize that since vaporizers are devices that work to release the active ingredients of smokable materials, such as the nicotine in tobacco, without combustion and without producing smoke they are safer.  Vaporizers work by heating materials to temperatures short of ignition – creating a vapor that produces similar feelings as smoking. To accomplish this, most vaporizers consist of at least a chamber for holding a vaporizable material, a heating element for bringing the vaporizable material up to a sufficient temperature, and a power source that supplies energy to the heating element.

To date, no long-term trials have been completed to study the relative safety of e-cigarettes. It is known some brands contain flavors that are linked to a serious lung disease, ultra-fine particles can be inhaled deep into the lungs and that they can contain heavy metals such as nickel, tin and lead. Teens and young adults have been particularly drawn to vaping and are also much more likely to become addicted to the nicotine as their brains are still developing. Unfortunately, use of e-cigarettes by young adults (18 to 24 years old), surpassed the usage by adults 25 years of age and older.*

Where Did This “Vaping” Trend Come From?

Even though vaporizers seem like they have become ubiquitous only recently, the vaping phenomenon has origins going back thousands of years. We have evidence dating back to 5th century B.C. suggesting that herbs were thrown on hot stones causing the release of a pleasant vapor into the air. However, it was not until the early 20th century that people began to refine the method and begin patenting their innovative vaporizer devices.

Making use of the LexisNexis TotalPatent One® patent search platform, we can see that the first patent filed for an electric vaporizer was filed with the USPTO in 1927 by an inventor named Joseph Robinson. At that time, the device was quite rudimentary and relied on butane ignition to gently warm tobacco. Of course, many improvements followed shortly thereafter. It was not long before alternative power sources, alternative heating sources, temperature controls, power switches, and other bells and whistles also became the subjects of patent protection. Now, vaporizers come in several shapes and sizes – big and small, discreet and conspicuous. Users can choose from a variety of vaporizable materials, including whole plant matter, oils, waxes, and liquids depending on their desire for taste, control, and convenience, and users also have their pick of heating materials using convection or conduction or practically any combination of heating imaginable.

TotalPatent One® reveals that the typical Cooperative Patent Classification (CPC) scheme assigned to vaporizers is CPC A24F 47/00. By running a search of over 100,000,000 patent documents from over 107 patent authorities worldwide, it is revealed that over 3,300 patent documents exist within CPC scheme that relate to vaporizers. Many of those patents are assigned to major corporations who are doubling down on the vaporizer trend. Philip Morris, the multinational cigarette and tobacco company, has 275 patent documents in this space alone. To top it off, they recently spent an estimated $3 billion developing their new IQOS system – a system for heating cigarette-like tobacco sticks short of combustion – in an attempt to move away from smoking and onto the next big thing.

* Facts drawn from the U.S. Surgeon General Report on vaping.

*Although there is a surge in requests for patents for vaping products, LexisNexis IP does not endorse the use of any vaping products and would encourage anyone considering their use to discuss it with their physician.

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