Federal Judge Overturns $32M Verdict Against Google in Sonos Patent Case
A federal judge in California has thrown out a $32.5 million patent infringement verdict awarded to wireless speaker maker Sonos against Google last year. The U.S. District Court ruling states that Sonos improperly tried connecting its multi-room audio patents to an older 2006 application to claim priority over Google’s inventions. The decision has led Google to reintroduce the ability to change the volume of multiple speakers at once by voice command, which it had removed after the International Trade Commission ruled that Sonos held the patent for that technology.
The Google Sonos Patent War
The multi-year legal battle began when Sonos filed a lawsuit against Google, alleging that Google’s smart speakers and related products are based on technology developed by Sonos. The lawsuit included a request that the court ban U.S. sales of Google’s speakers, smartphones, and laptops. Since then, there has been a raft of lawsuits, counter-suits, and follow-up lawsuits between the two companies.
A federal jury sided with Sonos in May and awarded $32.5 million in damages over a single patent. But, Google disputed the validity of Sonos’ patent claims, leading to the new ruling. The saga illustrates complex innovation dynamics between tech giants and smaller rivals. Sonos’ legal wrangling aims to defend its inventions as voice speakers proliferate. Sonos issued a statement disputing the decision and has said it plans to file an appeal. The ruling by U.S. District Judge William Alsup is a significant win for Google after the initial decision went in Sonos’ favor last year.
“This was not a case of an inventor leading the industry to something new. This was a case of the industry leading with something new and, only then, an inventor coming out of the woodwork to say that he had come up with the idea first — wringing fresh claims to read on a competitor’s products from an ancient application,” Alsup wrote in his decision. “It is wrong that our patent system was used in this way. With its constitutional underpinnings, this system is intended to promote and protect innovation. Here, by contrast, it was used to punish an innovator and to enrich a pretender by delay and sleight of hand. It has taken a full trial to learn this sad fact, but, at long last, a measure of justice is done.”
Google device users will immediately be able to start integrating their Google smart speakers together again after the ruling. Nest and Chromecast devices can again be labeled in multiple Speaker Groups and be controllable by voice and the Android and iOS Google Home apps.
“The decision shows the weakness of a central plank of Sonos’ campaign. The court stated that Sonos’ patents are both invalid — meaning they never should have been granted in the first place — and unenforceable, and affirmed that we developed the technology first and independently,” Google General Counsel Halimah DeLaine Prado wrote in a blog post. “This decision is good news for our users who will once again be able to seamlessly group and integrate Google smart speakers, and for continued innovation of new features across the industry. However, it’s an unfortunate reminder of how aggressive actors are increasingly abusing the patent system, wasting time and resources.”