Google found to have violated Sonos patents, potentially blocking import of some Google devices into the US
In January 2020, Sonos filed two lawsuits against Google, claiming that the latter stole its multiroom speaker technology and infringed on 100 patents. In September, Sonos then sued Google alleging that the company’s entire line of Chromecast and Nest products violated five of Sonos’ wireless audio patents. A judge (preliminarily) ruled in favor of Sonos. Now it’s gone from bad to worse for Google, as the preliminary findings have been finalized by the U.S. International Trade Commission. As a result, Google is not allowed to import any products that violate patents owned by Sonos, which Sonos argues includes Google Pixel phones and computers, Chromecasts, and Google Home/Nest speakers.
These products produced by Google are often made outside of the United States and imported, hence why this is a big deal for Google. In the ruling (via The New York Times), Google was also served a cease & desist in order to stop violating Sonos’ patents. It has been theorized that as a result of the lawsuit, Google had removed Cast volume controls in Android 12, though it was recently added back with the January 2022 security patch.
Sonos has previously said that it had proposed a licensing deal to Google for patents the company was making use of, but that neither company was able to reach an agreement. Sonos said that it had shared details of its proprietary technology with Google in 2013 when both companies weren’t competitors, though Google later moved into the audio space with the release of devices like the Google Home. There are still two more lawsuits pending against Google filed by Sonos, meaning that it’s unlikely this is the last we’ve heard of this spat.
The ruling will now go to U.S. President Joe Biden, who can potentially veto it within the next 60 days before it comes into effect. The patents said to be infringed are the following:
- 9,195,258: System and method for synchronizing operations among a plurality of independently clocked digital data processing devices
- 10,209,953 Playback device
- 8,588,949 Method and apparatus for adjusting volume levels in a multi-zone system
- 9,219,959 Multi-channel pairing in a media system
- 10,439,896 Playback device connection
Sonos gave the following statement to Bloomberg:
“While Google may sacrifice consumer experience in an attempt to circumvent this importation ban, its products will still infringe many dozens of Sonos patents, its wrongdoing will persist, and the damages owed Sonos will continue to accrue. Alternatively, Google can — as other companies have already done — pay a fair royalty for the technologies it has misappropriated.”
Google gave the following statement to Bloomberg:
“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. We will seek further review and continue to defend ourselves against Sonos’s frivolous claims about our partnership and intellectual property.”