Sonos took an early win in the case against Google on Friday, when the US International Trade Commission ruled that Google infringed five of Sonos’ patents for smart speakers. The ruling is preliminary and subject to a full ITC review, but it could lead to a ban on Google’s smart speakers.
In January 2020, Sonos filed a patent infringement lawsuit against Google targeting Google’s smart speakers, the Google Home, and later the Nest Audio line. Sonos is the founder of internet-connected speakers that can be easily connected to streaming services, while Google speakers combine a similar feature set with Google Assistant voice commands. To hear Sonos tell the story, Google got a behind-the-scenes look at Sonos’ hardware in 2013, when Google agreed to build Google Play Music support for Sonos speakers. Sonos claims that Google used that access to “blatantly and knowingly” copy Sonos’ audio features for the Google Home speaker, which launched in 2016.
However you want to measure it, Sonos is a small company compared to the tech giants it regularly battles. The 19-year-old company only has products in the connected speaker market and has a market cap of $5 billion. Its competitors – Google, Amazon and Apple – are among the largest companies in the world, each with a market cap of more than $1.5 trillion. To complicate matters for Sonos, the company relies on both Google and Amazon to conduct its search, advertising and retail business, and has been concerned about retaliation from the two giants. In addition, when Amazon and Google hit the market, Sonos was forced to support both voice assistants in order to compete. In 2020, Sonos said Amazon also appeared to be using its technology, but would focus its legal efforts on Google.
TechCrunch got statements from both sides of the fight. First, Sonos’ Chief Legal Officer, Eddie Lazarus, told the site: “Today, the ALJ determined that all five of Sonos’ claimed patents are valid and that Google is infringing all five patents. We are pleased that the ITC has confirmed Google’s flagrant infringement of Sonos’ patented inventions. This decision reaffirms the strength and breadth of our portfolio and marks a promising milestone in our long-term commitment to defend our innovation against misappropriation by Big Tech monopolies.”
Meanwhile, Google said, “We don’t 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 defend our case in the upcoming review process.”
A final ruling is due on December 13, and it’s not just speakers who could be banned if the two companies don’t act nice. The products that connect to those speakers, such as Pixels and Chromecasts, can also be disabled.