US regulator determines that Google has infringed Sonos speaker patents


The US International Trade Commission agrees with Sonos’ claims that Google has infringed on its speaker and released patents. It released its first decision in August, completing its ruling banning Google from importing products that have been found to have infringed Sonos’ intellectual property. Since Google manufactures its products in China, that means it won’t be able to ship them to the US when the import ban comes into effect in 60 days.

Sonos sued Google in 2020 for five patents, including one that describes a technology that allows wireless speakers to sync with each other. As The New York Times points out, products affected include Google Home smart speakers, Pixel phones and computers, as well as Chromecast devices. While Google faces an import ban, a spokesperson said the tech giant doesn’t expect the ruling to disrupt its ability to import and sell devices.

“While we disagree with today’s decision, we appreciate the International Trade Commission’s approval of our amended drafts,” the spokesperson told Protocol. “We will seek further review and continue to defend ourselves against Sonos’ frivolous claims about our partnership and intellectual property.” The committee did not challenge those alternative designs in its final decision, meaning Google can implement them.

The Nest team recently announced some changes to the speaker groups, which they say are “due to a recent legal ruling.” The most notable change is that in the future users will no longer be able to adjust the volume of all speakers in a group at once. They should instead adjust each speaker individually.

In a statement, Sonos’ Chief Legal Officer, Eddie Lazarus, admitted there is a possibility that “Google could downgrade or eliminate product features in a way that circumvents the import ban imposed by the ITC.” However, he said the tech giant’s products will still “violate many dozen Sonos patents” — that is, unless Google pays Sonos royalties for its technologies.

His entire statement reads:

“We appreciate that the ITC has finally validated the five Sonos patents at issue in this case and has unequivocally ruled that Google infringes on all five. That is an overall victory that is extremely rare in patent cases and underscores the power of Sonos’ vast patent portfolio and the void of Google’s refusal to copy, these Sonos patents cover Sonos’ groundbreaking invention of extremely popular home audio features, including the setup for controlling home audio systems, synchronizing multiple speakers , the independent volume control of different speakers and the stereo pairing of speakers.

It is possible that Google could downgrade or eliminate product features in a way that circumvents the import ban imposed by the ITC. But while Google may sacrifice the consumer experience in an effort to circumvent this import ban, its products will still infringe many dozen Sonos patents, its misconduct will continue, and the damages owed Sonos will continue to accumulate. Alternatively, as other companies have already done, Google can pay a fair royalty for the technologies it has misused.”

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