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e-cig.jpg (Photo : Reuters)

China, with over 300 million smokers, now leads the world in both the manufacture and design of various e-cigarette technologies.

In fact, Hon Li, a Cantonese pharmacist and inventor, is credited with the invention of the electronic cigarette. A former heavy smoker himself, Hon filed the first patent for the device in 2003 in China. The following year, he introduced it to the Chinese market, with the first e-cigarette being manufactured in Beijing. Since then, Hon's invention has become so popular that the market now for the e-cigarette is estimated to be worth $3.5 billion.

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Currently, e-cigarette manufacturers are in a race among themselves to design and buy better variations of the technology behind the device largely to get ahead of an anticipated stiffer regulation that the World Health Organization is pushing for. Reportedly, the WHO wants to ban indoor use, advertising and sales of e-cigarettes to minors.

In 2013, Imperial Tobacco bought the patents owned by the company that Hon co-founded for a reported $75 million sum and is now suing rivals for alleged patent infringements.

Philip Morris International may soon come out with a "pay-as-you-go" version of the e-cigarette.

A company called Energy Shisha now sells a caffeinated "vaping stick," while another called Fuma International has filed a patent for another variation of the device which makes use of tetrahydrocannabinol, the active chemical in marijuana.

A recent research by Thomson Reuters shows that of more than 2,000 e-cigarette inventions tracked, 64 percent were found to have originated in China, where more than half of the total male population smoke. The United States comes at a distant second place with 14 percent, followed by South Korea with 9 percent of the total 2,000 e-cigarette inventions covered in the study.

As observed by Thomson Reuters, China dominates the e-cigarette technology market not only because of its sizable number of smokers, but also as a result of the Chinese government's active push in forging a knowledge-based economy. By maximizing patents, said Reuters, Beijing hopes to replace the ubiquitous "Made in China" label by "Designed in China."

Since 2011, China has been the world's top patent filer not only for e-cigarette technology, but for all kinds of inventions, according to the World Intellectual Property Office. China now owns intellectual property rights on practically everything from telecoms to medicine, says Reuters.