Google Loses Trade Court Patent Fight With Sonos, Starts Removing Infringing Smart Speaker Features
The U.S. International Trade Commission has ruled that Google infringed on five Sonos patents related to smart speakers and will have to adjust its products accordingly. The court confirmed its preliminary August ruling, leading to immediate changes in Google Nest devices as a result.
The ITC battle over whether Google’s smart speakers and related products use Sonos’ technology without permission lasted two years. Sonos claimed Google illegally used the patents to create smart speakers and other smart home devices. Sonos had asked for a ban on U.S. sales of Google’s speakers, smartphones, and laptops, but that is an unlikely conclusion. Google has 60 days to comply with the order but has already announced a change affecting those with multiple Google smart speakers. Changing the volume of multiple speakers at once on the app or asking Google Assistant is no longer possible. Each speaker has to have its volume changed individually.
“While we disagree with today’s decision, we appreciate that the International Trade Commission has approved our modified designs and we do not expect any impact to our ability to import or sell our products,” a Google spokesperson said in a statement. “We will seek further review and continue to defend ourselves against Sonos’ frivolous claims about our partnership and intellectual property.”
The modified designs haven’t prevented the volume control change, though, and many upset customers are commenting on the Nest announcement. What Google is legally obligated to do in terms of its products isn’t clear, but if it downgrades more of its features, it may see the threatened exodus away from its products threatened in many responses.
“This “update” breaks all purpose and functionality of using your devices to listen to music,” one commenter wrote. “It also means many of my devices will cease to function in my house for their intended purpose. What complete garbage and another nail in the coffin for Alexa’s dominance over you in the device game.”
Legal Battle Continues
The win for Sonos doesn’t close the book on its fight with Google. Sonos filed a lawsuit in the Los Angeles Federal District Court at the same time that had been stayed pending this decision. Then, Google counter-sued Sonos in June over the patents. A few months later, Sonos followed up with an additional lawsuit over another five patents, specifically those for Google Chromecast Audio and its support for multiroom operations. One of the complaints was thrown out of court subsequently, but the other four are still contested.
“We appreciate that the ITC has definitively validated the five Sonos patents at issue in this case and ruled unequivocally that Google infringes all five,” Sonos chief legal officer Eddie Lazarus said in a statement. That is an across the board win that is surpassingly rare in patent cases and underscores the strength of Sonos’s extensive patent portfolio and the hollowness of Google’s denials of copying.”
Sonos CEO Patrick Spence, who has testified to Congress about tech giants bullying smaller firms and limiting their choices, did not release a statement. That said, his Twitter feed is full of his retweets of articles about the decision.