A judge has ruled that Google infringed on Sonos’ patents

Photo by Becca Farsace / The Verge
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Google has infringed upon Sonos’ patents, according to an initial ruling from a US International Trade Commission judge. Sonos has been locked in a legal battle with Google after it sued the search giant, claiming that it had infringed on five of its patents relating to smart speakers. In a statement to The Verge, Sonos says that the ruling “is only a first step in a lengthy battle” but calls it an “important milestone in the ongoing effort to defend Sonos’ technology against Google.”

The suit began in January of 2020, with Sonos alleging that Google stole technology it had access to as part of a partnership between the two companies. In the lawsuit, Sonos says that Google used that tech in its own products and undercut Sonos. As part of its suit, Sonos asked for a sales ban on tons of Google hardware, including Nest Hubs, Chromecasts, and Pixel phones. The suit has since set off a legal battle between the two companies, with Google filing a countersuit and Sonos starting another case, claiming that Google had infringed five more patents in addition to the original five.

The commission found that Google had infringed on all five of the patents the company had cited in the original suit. As The New York Times points out, this isn’t a final decision. The International Trade Commission will have to consider the case as well and issue its own ruling, which will happen on December 13th. The decision is also only for one case — there’s still the mess of other lawsuits the two companies are embroiled in.

The ruling comes as Sonos has reportedly been surveying customers on whether they’d want a feature called “Sonos Voice Control,” which would seemingly add some more smarts to the company’s speakers (though some Sonos products already support Amazon’s Alexa).

There’s also the backdrop of antitrust complaints against Google. In its statement, Sonos says that its effort against Google is meant to “ensure all companies, regardless of size, receive fair compensation for investing in the development of industry leading technology.” In other words, Sonos is painting itself as the little guy going up against the Goliath. Sonos’ CEO has even testified in front of Congress that big tech companies like Google harm competition in their quest to be everything to everyone.

Google spokesperson José Castañeda gave the following statement to The Verge:

We do not use Sonos’ technology, and we compete on the quality of our products and the merits of our ideas. We disagree with this preliminary ruling and will continue to make our case in the upcoming review process.

Comments

At least Sonos is an active company with actual products out there.
Hate the non practicing entity lawsuits.
Google and Sonos will work something out.

Weirdly, though, not products that compete with the ones they want a sales ban on?

Sonos doesn’t even have an android phone.

I think these products have the google cast multi room sync technology that sonos did first and is pretty hard to do. (I don’t think anyone did it for years until google came out with it on google cast). I bet the other companies that do it now (Sony, Bose etc.. ) pay a license fee or developed their own tech to do it.
Google is more of an ask for forgiveness not permission type company.

that sonos did first

Slim Devices (later acquired by Logitech) did it before Sonos with their Squeezebox line. I’m no lawyer but have wondered if Sonos patents wouldn’t fall under prior art.

Sonos’ wifi tech is very different than the Squeezebox. They didnt matchup at all in terms of wifi robustness (Sonos clearly wins)

sonos did first

That’s difficult to say when they weren’t even founded until around a decade after *nix had it.

But they did get a patent on it, which in first to file systems …

… still would make me wonder why they’d be getting a sales injunction on smart phones.

Yeah. Everything they sell is limited to their horrible non-functional app(s). Sonos is worse than Apple. Ecosystem lockdown and zero willingness to keep older devices running within that ecosystem. As usual geriatric congress is always a decade or two behind the times in wrangling companies abuse of power that 100% limit freedom of choice …where apps and hardware are so intertwined, you have to use both or abandon both.

Sonos needs it’s own "Disco Demolition Night" in Comisky Park, whereby all pissed off users of their limited and unusable hardware show up and make a giant Sonos speaker bonfire.

Seriously? Do you even use own any of their products? Dude I have Sonos One speakers that I have owned for 8 years that still work – so what crap do you smoke?

Sonos does right by there users. My EOL Sonos 5 still works on the legacy app, and they gave me a discount to by my Arc centered setup worth more that I paid for the speaker in the first place.
But what do I know. I like Apple products too.

No kidding. Sonos is one of the best companies for supporting legacy hardware.

Even if that were true, it is not even remotely relevant to the discussion at hand. Google is stealing another company’s IP. Instead of admitting it and simply paying licencing fees, they are trying to embroil them in a costly legal battle, knowing that Sonos cannot compete cash wise. This is classic antitrust behaviour and should be punished severely.

If only the legal system would punish the wealthier party more (and I’m not talking punitive damages) just because they have more financial resource. It might even help unclog the courts when the opportunity cost of going to court is equally high for all parties involved, and not just the less well funded one.

You’re obviously high. Or maybe you walk around like that all the time, I’m which case…. Get a helmet. It’s for your own good.

Apple did the same thing with Tile. Apple and Google, as platform owners, unfairly get access to other companies’ tech. Apple clearly evolved on Tile’s design but the tile design gave them a lot of insight and a headstart.

Google used the tech that Sonos created and shared with them for other purposes.

Apple used the tech that it launched before even Tile was a thing. If Tile had a tiny hope of winning a patent case, they would certainly sue Apple. Instead, they keep whining about the things that were okay with two years ago, when there weren’t rumors of AirTags yet.

That’s the damn problem with big name companies infringing on patents like this. They can just establish the product and then afford to pay whatever the fuck-you money the fine will be. They need to be kneecapped big time

Nice. Sonos isn’t anywhere near as huge as Google but I’m glad that they are big enough to be able to fight back from Google ripping them off. This type of behavior certainly seems extremely common for big companies to do ‘partnerships’ and then back out once they get a full look at all the IP. Reminds me of the Silicon Valley episode about ‘brain rape’ with the VC’s.

I just briefly looked into the first patent.
It looks like it patents synchronized execution of tasks over the network.
I always thought that reading scientific papers was kind of difficult, but reading patents is basically impossible. Even the abstract which is about as far as I got into it, is almost impossible to comprehend. The more I think about it the greater my hate for patents becomes.
There is no way and engineer is able to judge whether some idea infringes on a patent let alone find all the patents an idea might infringe upon. So any time a company want’s to commit a team to explore a new idea they have to either live with the risk, that they can’t bring it to market or undergo a lengthy and expensive legal analysis.
Patents are supposed incentivize innovation. In they reality subsidize a monstrous legal sector, stifle competition and prevent iterative innovation. As illustrated by Google filing a counter suit, software patents aren’t used to protect innovation they are used to squash competition and fend off attacks.
The fact that in this case a mid sized tech company is attacking giant like Google can not hide the fact that disputes over software patents is a war of attrition, the underdog, might land a hit, Goliath might decide that a particular battle isn’t worth fighting, but this isn’t about who is right, this is about resources and the bigger fish prevails.

There are people who do patent investigations. Also by publishing a patent, technology that otherwise may be kept in secret becomes publicly available.

The arrogance of Sonos is thinking that Google is within its control.

Do you feel Google should just be able to break the law with reckless abandon? What is wrong with you?

Do no evil

this you google? lol, they are truly becoming (are one of) the worst.

Reminds me of the phrase "you either die the hero, or live long enough to become the villain"

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