Sonos Takes On Google, Claiming It Infringed On Five Patents

Sonos, the smart-speaker company, claims Google has violated five of its patents. Sonos filed a lawsuit yesterday in federal court in California and with the U.S. International Trade Commission seeking redress that it says it has been unable to obtain in discussions with the tech conglomerate over years of working with Google.

Sonos also claims that Amazon has infringed on its innovations but says it cannot afford to take on both companies in court at once.

“Sonos advertises its speakers on Google and sells them on Amazon. It built their music services and talking virtual assistants directly into its products. Sonos workers correspond via Gmail, and run the business off Amazon’s cloud-computing service,” Jack Nicas and Daisuke Wakabayashi point out  in a comprehensive piece about the litigation for The New York Times.



“Then Google and Amazon came out with their own speakers, undercutting Sonos’s prices and, according to Sonos executives, stealing its technology. Google and Amazon each now sell as many speakers in a few months as Sonos sells in one year,” Nicas and Wakabayashi continue. “Like many companies under the thumb of Big Tech, Sonos groused privately for years. But over the past several months, Patrick Spence, Sonos’s chief executive, decided he couldn’t take it anymore.”

“If the Sonos suit succeeds in court, Google could be forced to pull more than a dozen products off the market. Sonos says Google is currently using its technology, infringing on the company's patents, in Google Home Mini speakers and Pixel phones, tablets and laptops,” CBS News’ Stephen Gandel writes

“Sonos also wants Google to pay monetary damages for its alleged patent infringement. Sonos did not specify a dollar amount of damages in the suit, but said the infringement is ongoing,” he adds.

Google spokesperson Jose Castaneda tells Axios’ Ina Fried: “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. We dispute these claims and will defend them vigorously.”

The relationship between the two companies, which had matched Sonos’ speakers with Google services, has soured as Google [challenged] Sonos in its own industry, Sebastian Herrera writes  for MarketWatch.

“‘Google has been blatantly and knowingly copying our patented technology in creating its audio products,’ Sonos CEO Patrick Spence said in a statement Tuesday. While Alphabet Inc.’s Google remains ‘an important partner,’ the two parties haven’t been able to find a solution, he added,” Herrera adds.

Beyond the merits of Sonos’ claims, Google and its parent, Alphabet, Inc., face “broad investigations by federal and state authorities into potentially monopolistic behavior, and each new challenge from smaller competitors could fuel the antitrust bandwagon,” Axios’ Fried points out.

“Barring a settlement, the court battle is sure to be a lengthy one that will reveal intimate details behind the two companies’ partnership. For example, the Times notes that Google demands that Assistant not work alongside any other assistant on Sonos speakers, which is why users need to select a default assistant during setup,” Michael Simon observes  for PCWorld.

Writing for GeekWire, Todd Bishop  wonders if Sonos decided to sue Google rather than Amazon because Amazon won a patent for “distributed speaker synchronization” four years ago.

“Our search of U.S. patent records this afternoon, following news that the high-tech speaker maker is suing the search giant for patent infringement, turned up an interesting and potentially relevant patent that was granted to Amazon in 2016, based on a 2013 patent application…,” Bishop writes.

“It’s just one patent vs. the 100 that Sonos says Google and Amazon are violating, some dating back many years. But it gets to the heart of the functionality that the high-tech speaker maker cited,” in the lawsuits against Google, Bishop continues after quoting from the abstract of the application. “Let the arguments over prior art and intellectual property ensue, but the situation illustrates the complexities of the patent system and the challenge that Sonos is taking on with its litigation,” he concludes.

Not to mention the complexities of taking on the largest tech companies in the world even as technology constantly transforms, leaving today’s breakthrough products obsolete tomorrow.

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