[Update 2: New Lawsuit] Sonos is suing Google for allegedly stealing patented speaker technology
The smart speaker space is one of the hottest battlegrounds in the tech world right now. These devices have slowly made their way into millions of homes across the globe, giving the companies behind them ecosystem lock-in power and access to tons of information. Google has become a major player in this market, but Sonos is claiming that Google stole their technology in order to do so.
The New York Times is reporting (via The Verge) that Sonos has filed two lawsuits against Google. Sonos claims Google stole its multiroom speaker technology after a 2013 partnership. On top of that, the company is asking for a sales ban on the products that have benefited from Google’s alleged IP theft, which includes phones, laptops, and speakers.
The 2013 partnership allowed Sonos speakers to support Google Play Music, but Sonos is claiming Google used patented technology in the Chromecast Audio, Google Home devices, and Pixel devices. Sonos also says Google subsidized the products that used their technology, greatly undercutting Sonos’ more expensive products. The company says it warned Google about this in 2016, 2018, and last year, accusing the company of infringing on 100 patents.
In the lawsuit, Sonos points out similarities between new Google products and its existing technologies. They mention things like synchronizing audio across speaker groups, adjusting group volume, and setting up services on a local wireless network. Sonos is also accusing Google and Amazon of sabotaging their attempts to make a device that would have allowed users to use both Google Assistant and Alexa. In fact, Sonos claims Amazon has also violated its patents, but the company doesn’t want to be “battling two tech giants in court at once.”
Google and Amazon have both already responded to the lawsuit, denying infringement. Google says they dispute the claims and “will defend them vigorously.”
Update 1: Google countersues
After Sonos sued Google in January for stealing patented speaker technology, Google is now countersuing. Google accuses Sonos of infringing on 5 patents related to mesh networking, echo cancellation, DRM, content notifications, and personalized search.
In the filing, Google says: “While Google rarely sues other companies for patent infringement, it must assert its intellectual property rights here.” Google describes the support they gave to Sonos to integrate Google’s music services and Assistant as “significant assistance in designing, implementing, and testing.”
Google points to how they helped Sonos integrate Play Music in 2013 and Google Assistant in 2016. “This effort again involved substantial Google engineering resources, including significant months of employee work time,” says Google in the filing. In addition, Google says that they are “proud of its more than five-year partnership with Sonos, and has worked constructively with Sonos to make the companies’ products work seamlessly by building special integrations for Sonos.” As an example, Google says that “when Google rolled out the ability to set a Sonos speaker as the default option for Google Assistant, it was the first time Google had done that for any partner company.”
In a statement to The Verge, Jose Castaneda, a Google spokesperson, said that “we are disappointed that Sonos has made false claims about our work together and technology. We are reluctantly defending ourselves by asserting our patent rights. While we look to resolve our dispute, we will continue to ensure our shared customers have the best experience using our products.”
Update 2: Sonos files another patent lawsuit
Update by Mishaal Rahman
Google is set to announce a new Chromecast and Nest smart speaker tomorrow, and Sonos is not happy about that. The maker of home audio gear has filed another patent lawsuit against Google (via The Verge), alleging the company’s entire line of Chromecast and Nest products violates five of Sonos’ wireless audio patents: U.S. Patent Nos. 9,967,615, 10,779,033, 9,344,206, 10,469,966, and 9,219,460. These patents cover systems for network music playback, grouping of devices into zones, and configuring audio settings based on the environment. Sonos alleges that Google is infringing on these patents by implementing remote playback controls on smartphones for streamed music, speaker group management in the Google Home app, and automatic speaker equalization.
“We think it’s important to show the depth and breadth of Google’s copying,” Eddie Lazarus, Sonos’ chief legal officer, said in a statement. “We showed them claim charts on 100 patents that we claimed they were infringing, all to no avail.” In response, Google spokesperson Jose Castaneda says that “Sonos has made misleading statements about our history of working together.” He adds that “our technology and devices were designed independently. We deny their claims vigorously, and will be defending against them.”