Google has infringed Sonos Audio patents, trade court rules

Google’s smart speakers, plus some of its other devices, have been found to infringe existing Sonos patents. Photo: Gizmodo / Andrew Liszewskic

Google’s smart speakers and Android devices are an important part of the vision for a connected ecosystem, which could be endangered following a commercial court ruling today.

The United States International Trade Commission (ITC) has ruled that Google has infringed Sonos audio patents. (You can view a PDF of the pronunciation here.) The ruling means that Google can no longer import products that infringe Sonos’ intellectual property – the gadgets are manufactured abroad – and the committee has banned the company. The ruling will go to President Biden’s office and Biden will then have 60 days to veto it.

The commission spent two years investigating whether Google had violated the Tariff Act of 1930, a law enacted to prevent unfair competition from imported products that infringe U.S. patents, trademarks and copyrights. The committee has been deliberating since last year August, after a judge provisionally ruled that Google had infringed patents.

Sonos had asked the ITC to block imports of Google products that infringe its patents, including Google Home smart speakers, Pixel smartphones and Chromecast devices. A Google spokesperson told Bloomberg that it had been working on redesigning its products after the preliminary ruling last August to avoid infringing Sonos patents so that there would be no disruption to sales.

“While we disagree with today’s decision, we will ensure that our shared customers have the best experience using our products and will not experience any disruptions,” said Google spokesperson José Castañeda. “We will seek further review and continue to defend ourselves against Sonos’ frivolous claims about our partnership and intellectual property.”

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Sonos initially filed its complaint January 2020 after reportedly alerting Google to the alleged breaches multiple times. Sonos CEO Patrick Spence claimed at the time that Google “blatantly and knowingly” copied its proprietary audio technology. The patents in question appear to be related to Google’s casting infrastructure, such as how it handles multi-room display between network devices.

Sonos has previously said it would like Google to license its technology, and the two companies have reportedly discussed such an arrangement. Sonos’ chief legal officer, Eddie Lazarus, estimated that Google had infringed more than 150 of the company’s patents.

Google still has the option to appeal the ruling after the presidential review period, so it’s unclear whether the company will have to start selling different versions of its devices anytime soon.

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