Sonos Scores Early Points Against Google in Patent Lawsuit
Sonos has received some tentative good news in its legal battle against Google over patent infringement from the US International Trade Commission. The ITC issued a preliminary ruling that Google had infringed on five Sonos smart speaker patents, pending a full review. The year-old legal drama could end up banning Google smart speakers entirely, though that would require the entire ITC to agree with every single one of Sonos’ allegations.
Sonos v. Google
The central issue is whether Google’s smart speakers and related products are based on technology developed by Sonos and used without permission, as the audio tech company claims. Sonos submitted its complaint to the ITC in January of last year, in tandem with a lawsuit in the Los Angeles Federal District Court. Sonos followed up with an additional lawsuit over another five patents in September, specifically those for Google Chromecast Audio and its support for multiroom operations. The patents were illicitly used to make the Google Home smart speakers and everything that came after, according to the complaint. Sonos asked for a ban on U.S. sales of Google’s speakers, smartphones, and laptops. That means everything with a Nest, Pixel, and Chromecast label might be discontinued and removed from the market.
“[T]he ALJ has found all five of Sonos’ asserted patents to be valid and that Google infringes on all five patents. We are pleased the ITC has confirmed Google’s blatant infringement of Sonos’ patented inventions,” Sonos Chief Legal Officer Eddie Lazarus said in a statement. “This decision re-affirms the strength and breadth of our portfolio, marking a promising milestone in our long-term pursuit to defend our innovation against misappropriation by Big Tech monopolies.”
Google flatly denied all of the allegations and has maintained that position since the initial complaint. Google filed a countersuit last year claiming that it was actually Sonos using Google technology without permission. The countersuit alleged that Sonos has been relying on DRM, content notification, content notification, mesh networking, and personalized search features for which Google holds patents, sparking a further countersuit from Sonos that Google was using its size and power to retaliate against them solely because of the first lawsuit. Google politely but firmly pushed back against the ITC’s initial ruling.
“We do not use Sonos’ technology, and we compete on the quality of our products and the merits of our ideas,” Google said in a statement. “We disagree with this preliminary ruling and will continue to make our case in the upcoming review process.”
Sonos has also suggested that Amazon behaved in a similar fashion to design the Echo smart speakers but has to go up against one at a time because Amazon and Google are so large. Sonos CEO Patrick Spence has testified to that point in Congressional hearings, claiming that tech giants like Amazon and Google are unfairly pressuring companies like Sonos to limit competition and force them to do whatever the larger company wants. The ITC should make its final ruling on December 13, but Sonos is already looking ahead. The company has started surveying users about a potential in-house voice assistant to control Sonos devices. The email shared by recipients specifically suggests the Sonos Voice Control would be compatible with Alexa but never mentions Google Assistant at all. The gap is suggestive at the very least, though not definitive enough to predict Sonos’ future plans,