Google violated Sonos speaker technology and commercial court rules
OAKLAND, Calif .– Google has infringed five audio technology patents held by speaker maker Sonos and is not allowed to import products into the United States that infringe Sonos’ intellectual property, a commercial court ruled Thursday.
Final ruling by the United States’ International Trade Commission, a quasi-judicial body that adjudicates trade cases and can block the importation of goods that violate patents, closes two-year investigation into ownership dispute intellectual.
Sonos had asked the trade commission to block imports of Google products that the speaker company said infringe its patents. They include Google Home smart speakers, Pixel phones and computers, and the Chromecast video streaming device. These items are made in China and shipped to the United States.
The import ban will come into effect in 60 days. During this time, the matter will be the subject of a presidential review. The final ruling upheld a commission judge’s preliminary finding in August that Google should be subject to the import ban. After this initial decision, the full committee met to consider whether to accept or overturn this decision.
The commission determined that Google had violated the Tariff Act of 1930, which seeks to prevent unfair competition through actions such as importing products that infringe US patents, trademarks or copyrights. The commission also issued a cease and desist order against Google.
“We appreciate that the ITC has definitively validated the five Sonos patents at issue in this case and has ruled unequivocally that Google is in violation of all five,” Eddie Lazarus, Sonos chief legal officer, said in a statement. “It’s a general victory that is extremely rare in patent cases. “
José Castañeda, a spokesperson for Google, said the company does not agree with the decision, but will ensure that there is no disruption in the products used by customers. or in its ability to sell or import devices. Google said the August preliminary ruling approved alternative product designs that work around patents and the commission did not challenge the ruling on Thursday.
“We will seek further consideration and continue to defend against frivolous claims by Sonos regarding our partnership and our intellectual property,” Castañeda said in a statement.
Sonos also has two pending patent infringement lawsuits against Google in federal court. The first, filed in January 2020 in U.S. District Court in Los Angeles, has been suspended pending a decision from the International Trade Commission because the cases involve overlapping patents. The second, involving a different set of patents, is pending in U.S. District Court in San Francisco.
In his statement, Lazarus said that the alternative designs offered by Google could “degrade or eliminate the functionality of the product in a way that circumvents the import ban”, but that Google’s products still violate dozens of ‘other Sonos patents. He urged Google to pay a “fair royalty” to license the technology from Sonos.
The impact of the decision on Google’s business appears limited, as the import ban is likely to have little impact on new products using different technologies. It also doesn’t affect Google’s main cash cow, online advertising.
Google’s parent company, Alphabet, pools hardware product sales with “other” non-ad companies, including digital media and app sales. This category represented 18% of Alphabet’s revenue in the third quarter, which ended in September.
Sonos claimed to have shared details of its technology with Google from 2013, when the two companies started working together. Initially, Google was not a competitor, but it started to move into the Sonos space, first with a small device to stream music in 2015, and then with its Google Home speaker in 2016.
Sonos said Google was violating more than 100 of its patents and offered Google a licensing deal. The two companies were unable to reach an agreement.
The lawsuits are in part a by-product of the sprawling companies of today’s tech giants. Google started as a search engine over two decades ago. Today, it manufactures a wide range of hardware products, including smartphones, computers and connected home devices. It sells IT infrastructure to other businesses, as well as high-speed Internet connectivity to ordinary consumers.
With each expansion of its business, Google is attacking the land of small businesses that never expected to end up with a monster of seemingly limitless resources.
Sonos pioneered home speakers that stream music or podcasts from smartphones and can be wirelessly networked to play songs in different rooms. However, Google, Amazon, Apple, and Facebook have all entered the market in recent years, seeing smart speakers as a way to bring voice assistants to millions of homes around the world.
As tech conglomerates come under close scrutiny by regulators and politicians, other smaller rivals are challenging the business practices of the industry’s biggest companies in court. Epic Games, creator of the popular game Fortnite, sued Apple and Google for the App Store commissions. Facebook, now renamed Meta, was sued in November by a now defunct photo-sharing app, Phhhoto, which claimed Facebook had violated antitrust laws.