Sonos Sues Google, Alleging Theft of Its Patented Smart Speaker Technology

Courtesy of Sonos
        

The smart speaker manufacturer claims Google gained access to the technology during a 2013 partnership.

Sonos is gearing up for a legal battle with Google, according to documents filed Tuesday (Jan. 7) in U.S. District Court in California.

In a nearly 100-page complaint, Sonos accuses the tech giant of infringing multiple patents on its smart speaker technology after gaining access to it via a 2013 partnership that had Sonos integrating Google Play Music into its products. “As recognized at the time, Sonos’s integration work with Google was especially ‘deep’ and gave Google a wide aperture through which to view Sonos’s proprietary technology,” the suit reads.

Just two years later, Google introduced its own smart speakers under the now-defunct Chromecast Audio line which, according to Sonos, willfully infringed its patented multi-room technology. Sonos claims Google has since expanded its use of Sonos technology in more than a dozen other products, including Google Home, Google Home Mini, Google Home Max, Nest Mini, Nest Hub, Nest Hub Max, Nest Wifi Point and its Pixel line of phones, tablets and laptops.

"Google is an important partner with whom we have collaborated successfully for years, including bringing the Google Assistant to the Sonos platform last year," said Sonos CEO Patrick Spence in a statement sent to Billboard. "However, Google has been blatantly and knowingly copying our patented technology in creating its audio products. Despite our repeated & extensive efforts over the last few years, Google has not shown any willingness to work with us on a mutually beneficial solution. We’re left with no choice but to litigate in the interest of protecting our inventions, our customers, and the spirit of innovation that’s defined Sonos from the beginning."​

Compounding Google’s alleged patent theft, Sonos claims that in an attempt to shut it out of the market, the tech giant has engaged in predatory pricing practices by subsidizing the alleged infringing products -- thereby allowing them to be sold at lower price points -- while also “vacuum[ing] up” user data in order to “further entrench the Google platform among its users and ultimately fuel its dominant advertising and search platforms.”

Sonos claims that despite warning Google of its patent infringement on two separate occasions in August and October of 2016, the company nonetheless moved forward with the release its Google Home smart speaker that November. Sonos warned Google again in January 2018, July 2018 and February 2019, by which time they had put the company on notice for a total of 100 patent infringements.

Sonos further asserts that even prior to its first warning in 2016, Google had been well aware of Sonos’ previous patent litigation against competitor D&M (now owned by Sound United), which was initiated in 2014 and lasted a total of three years. Sonos was eventually awarded $2 million by a jury in that case for breaches occurring between 2014 and December 2016; after Sonos filed a claim to extend damages through December 2017, the parties ultimately settled the following May.

There are a total of five patent infringements named in Tuesday’s suit, all of which concern the use of multi-room audio. Sonos is asking for an injunction enjoining Google from further infringement; unspecified damages; attorney’s fees and other court-related costs; and an award of pre- and post-judgment interest.

In a separate complaint filed this week with the U.S. International Trade Commission, Sonos is additionally requesting a sales ban on all Google products in the U.S. that infringe on its patents. Sonos also filed a patent infringement suit against smart speaker manufacturer BlueSound last July.

“Over the years, we have had numerous ongoing conversations with Sonos about both companies' IP rights and we are disappointed that Sonos brought these lawsuits instead of continuing negotiations in good faith," said Google spokesperson Jose Castaneda in a statement. "We dispute these claims and will defend them vigorously.”

According to the New York Timesoriginal report on the suit (via The Verge), Sonos has publicly accused Amazon of similar infringements via its Echo devices, though Sonos has opted not to file suit against both companies simultaneously.

The Echo family of devices and our multi-room music technology were developed independently by Amazon," said an Amazon spokesperson in a statement to Billboard. "Our focus is on building the best possible experience for our customers and partners building with Alexa. In fact, The Alexa flywheel is helping to generate billions of dollars for the Alexa developer and device maker community.”

Today’s action has broad implications for the overall smart speaker market, as smaller companies like Sonos increasingly find themselves at the mercy of enormous tech companies like Google and Amazon, which boast the industry’s two dominant voice assistants (Sonos recently incorporated both Google Assistant and Amazon's Alexa into its smart speakers). In an apparent effort to compete, Sonos recently acquired the AI voice assistant platform Snips, though in a subsequent letter to shareholders Spence indicated that the company was not looking to build an “ask-anything” voice AI similar to Alexa and Google Assistant but rather something more music-specific.


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