Sonos Sues Google for Patent Theft, Urges Ban on Google Smart Speaker Sales
Sonos filed a lawsuit against Google on Tuesday alleging that Google is infringing on its patents. The audio tech company argues that Google’s smart speakers and related products are based on technology developed by Sonos. As part of the lawsuit, Sonos is asking for a ban on U.S. sales of Google’s speakers, smartphones, and laptops.
The lawsuit lays out the story of how Sonos shared blueprints on how its speakers work with Google in 2013 when the two companies partnered to add Google Play Music to Sonos speakers. Google did not make speakers at the time, which is why Sonos didn’t have an issue with it, according to a report in the New York Times. When Google launched the Chromecast Audio speaker in 2015, it could sync audio wirelessly in different rooms. Sonos claims that this feature, shared by the Google Home smart speaker, was lifted from the documentation shared with Google, without a license agreement in place.
“Google is an important partner with whom we have collaborated successfully for years, including bringing the Google Assistant to the Sonos platform last year. However, Google has been blatantly and knowingly copying our patented technology in creating its audio products,” Sonos CEO Patrick Spence said in a statement. “Despite our repeated and extensive efforts over the last few years, Google has not shown any willingness to work with us on a mutually beneficial solution,” he said. “We’re left with no choice but to litigate in the interest of protecting our inventions, our customers, and the spirit of innovation that’s defined Sonos from the beginning.”
Sonos and Google have worked together closely for a long time. The Sonos news page even has a headline welcoming Google to Sonos as you can see in the screenshot below.
A Fraction of Potential Patent Violations
Sonos filed the lawsuit in the Los Angeles Federal District Court at the same time it registered a complaint on the subject with the U.S. International Trade Commission. Both charge Google with using its patents to make Google Home smart speakers and subsequent devices and request the court to order a halt on U.S. sales of the products Sonos claims impinge on its intellectual property. While the lawsuit is limited to five patents, there could be around 100 potential intellectual property violations, Sonos stated. According to the Times report, Sonos believes Amazon also stole its patents to build its Echo smart speakers but is focusing on the Google lawsuit because the risk of suing both tech giants simultaneously is too large. Unsurprisingly, Google is pushing back against the lawsuit.
“Over the years, we have had numerous ongoing conversations with Sonos about both companies’ IP rights and we are disappointed that Sonos brought these lawsuits instead of continuing negotiations in good faith,” Google spokesperson Jose Castaneda said in a statement. “We dispute these claims and will defend them vigorously.”
Google and Amazon together are filling up more and more of the smart speaker market. They both offer a range of options including low-cost choices like the $50 Echo Dot and Google Home Mini, far below the price of Sonos’ creations. That squeeze has pushed Sonos into trying new ways of attracting customers. That’s part of why the company bought voice assistant developer Snips last year for $37.5 million. Sonos said at the time that the acquisition was about improving voice user experience and not competing with Alexa or Google Assistant, but it does give Sonos devices more independence from those voice assistants when it comes to controlling smart speakers and playing music.
Google and Amazon are already facing questions about whether they are violating monopoly and antitrust laws, so battles like this in court and in terms of public opinion is not something they will relish. Their size and power might actually work against them in this case. Still, it will take more than a lawsuit to alter the shape of the voice technology market, no matter how good a case Sonos may or may not have.