Electronic cigarettes are wildly popular around the world, but most people have no idea how these devices first entered the market. It all began when Chinese inventor Hon Lik imagined a cigarette that would be battery powered and completely tobacco free. Since then, Lik’s e-cig invention has evolved into a whole line of vaping products with millions of international fans. However, Lik is still stuck in his cramped Beijing office. How is this possible? Lik blames it on his company’s problems and now he is seeking financial compensation from copycat versions of his original e-cigarette.
Hon Lik reflected on his accomplishments and pitfalls in a recent interview. “Smoking is the most unhealthy thing in people’s everyday lives… I’ve made a big contribution to society. But I don’t live like a rich person because of all the troubles our company has faced.”
Lik is the co-founder of the ten-year-old Chinese e-cig company called Ruyan, which has always held the patent for electronic cigarette technology. Now the patents are being sold to Imperial Tobacco in a $75-million deal, but Lik says that he will not get the compensation he deserves through this transaction. Instead, he says that all the copyright disputes he has faced through the years have eaten away at his profits.
While he was the first researcher to invent the modern commercial e-cigarette, the concept dates back to an inventor in the United States during the 1960’s. Hon Lik’s version of the e-cig was created in 2003 when he was trying to kick his own smoking addiction. He told reporters about his battle to give up tobacco. “In the evenings I sometimes forgot to take off my nicotine patch, which gave me nightmares all night,” he said.
Soon, his idea for an electronic cigarette was born. He spent a full year perfecting his design and then by 2006, Ruyan was working 24 hours a day to produce e-cigarettes and they still couldn’t keep up with the demand. Unfortunately, the Chinese government soon turned on the product spreading rumors that the e-cig would cause heart attacks. Lik blamed the state-run tobacco industry that is responsible for 10 percent of the government’s revenue stream.
Soon, competitors began creating their own versions of Lik’s e-cigarette despite his patent. He has sued multiple e-cig companies and faced a number of court battles. Though other brands might claim their own unique designs, he disagrees. “They have made some small adjustments, but their basic structure is the same.” Lik said he would be content with receiving just one mao ($.02) per e-cigarette that is sold.
For now, Lik is not making a big profit on his invention. In fact, the $75 million deal with Imperial won’t benefit him at all. He says that his share would be tiny and it will all be reinvested into his company. He will also work with Imperial as an adviser after the merger.
Do you believe that Hon Lik should receive compensation from worldwide e-cigarette sales?