Sonos Wins Patent Victory Against Google Over Speaker Technology
But the patent war between the two companies is far from over.
A federal trade court ruled Thursday that Google infringed five audio technology patents owned by smart speaker maker Sonos and cannot import the infringing products from China – but also that Google can keep selling redesigned versions of the same gear.
The U.S. International Trade Commission, a court-like federal agency that can ban the import of goods if it decides they infringe patents, sided with Sonos’ accusations that a number of Google products had infringed its intellectual property, including Google Home speakers, Chromecast, and Pixel phones.
But the ruling came with an important carve-out: The commission confirmed that Google had successfully redesigned its products to avoid the Sonos patents, and that those re-worked versions would not be banned from store shelves.
Citing that aspect of the ruling, a spokesman for Google said in a statement to Billboard that the company did not expect the ruling to have “any impact to our ability to import or sell our products.”
“While we disagree with today’s decision, we appreciate that the International Trade Commission has approved our modified designs,” said José Castañeda. “We will seek further review and continue to defend ourselves against Sonos’ frivolous claims about our partnership and intellectual property.”
In its own statement, Sonos chief legal officer Eddie Lazarus said the ruling was “an across-the-board win that is surpassingly rare in patent cases” and that “we appreciate that the ITC has definitively validated the five Sonos patents at issue in this case and ruled unequivocally that Google infringes all five.”
While he acknowledged the “possibility” that Google could keep selling redesigned products after the ruling, he warned that doing so would “degrade or eliminate product features” and “sacrifice consumer experience.” He urged the Silicon Valley giant to instead “pay a fair royalty for the technologies it has misappropriated.”
Ahead of the ruling, Sonos had fiercely fought to prevent Google from being allowed to sell the redesigned products. In a September filing, the company warned the ITC that such a ruling would allow Google to keep importing patent-infringing products by making only “trivial software changes.”
Thursday’s ruling won’t be the end a broader patent war launched by Sonos against Google in early 2020. Two separate federal lawsuits are also pending, including one of which deals with an entirely different set of patents. Sonos can also appeal the ITC’;s ruling to a federal appeals court.