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Sonos accuses Google of ripping off their speaker technology for Google Home

Speaker maker Sonos is continuing its long-running legal battle with Google, seeking to ban imports of some Google devices to the U.S. over patent infringement claims.

U.S. International Trade Commission Judge Charles Bullock is expected to announce his findings on Friday, indicating whether the bid to block imports of Google Home devices from China has merit, according to Bloomberg

Bullock’s findings will not be definitive, as the full commission has to consider them before making a decision, which is scheduled to be issued on December 13. An import ban wouldn’t take effect for another 60 days.

Sonos’ complaint to the ITC accuses Google and its parent company Alphabet of importing ‘audio players and controllers, components thereof, and products’ that ripped off its patented technology without permission.

Speaker maker Sonos is continuing its long-running legal battle with Google, seeking to ban imports of some Google devices to the U.S. over patent infringement claims

A Google Home device is seen. Google has filed counterclaims and accuses Sonos of infringing on its intellectual property

A Google Home device is seen. Google has filed counterclaims and accuses Sonos of infringing on its intellectual property

The company has also filed a lawsuit, and Google filed a countersuit accusing Sonos of infringing on Google’s patents for several products, including controller apps and its Sonos Radio service.

‘Sonos has misrepresented our partnership and mischaracterized our technology,’ a Google spokesperson told Bloomberg. ‘We designed our products and services independently, and we have strong IP rights that we believe they have infringed.’ 

U.S. International Trade Commission Judge Charles Bullock is expected to announce his findings on Friday

U.S. International Trade Commission Judge Charles Bullock is expected to announce his findings on Friday

Suits and countersuits in the legal war have been filed in California, Texas, Canada, France, Germany and the Netherlands. 

‘Google has thrown everything at us in this case, but we believe that the evidence before the ITC demonstrates Google to be a serial infringer of Sonos’ valid patents and that the ITC case represents just the tip of the iceberg,’ Sonos Chief Legal Officer Eddie Lazarus said in an earnings call Wednesday.

Sonos claims that Google has been ripping off its designs since 2015, when the two companies were working together to integrate Google Play Music in Sonos devices.

Among the proprietary technology that Sonos accuses Google of stealing are systems to synchronize audio playback between multiple speakers, to eliminate lags that can sound like echoes.

The ITC, a quasi-judicial body, has the power to ban imports of goods that are found to violate U.S. patents. The ITC first opened its investigation into Sonos’ claims in February 2020.

The case has drawn scrutiny from regulators and lawmakers, as Congress probes antitrust concerns about Google and other tech giants.

Sonos CEO Patrick Spence accused Google and Amazon of using their dominance of search and online retail, respectively, to subsidize their push into the smart speaker market

Sonos CEO Patrick Spence accused Google and Amazon of using their dominance of search and online retail, respectively, to subsidize their push into the smart speaker market

Last year, Sonos CEO Patrick Spence in Congressional testimony accused Google and Amazon of using their dominance of search and online retail, respectively, to subsidize the smart speaker market and, potentially, dominate the market for other smart home devices. 

Amazon makes Echo smart speakers and the virtual assistant Alexa while Google makes the Nest series of smart speakers. 

In a June hearing, lawmakers from both parties pressed Google and Amazon about their smart speakers. 

Senator Amy Klobuchar, chair of the Senate Judiciary Committee’s antitrust subcommittee, noted that Amazon had more than 50 percent of the smart speaker market while Google had 30 percent, and stressed the importance of interoperability.

‘In a few years, people might easily have 20 or more connected devices in their homes – from a vacuum and a fridge to speakers and lights. We want those devices to work with each other seamlessly,’ she said. 

‘You shouldn’t have to choose the right devices for your home based on whether they play nicely with Google or Amazon’s digital assistants.’

Google Senior Public Policy Director Wilson White said interoperability was a goal and there were ‘robust conversations’ underway on how to achieve it.

Ryan McCrate, Amazon’s associate general counsel, said Amazon wanted users to have access to multiple assistants from a single device if that was what the user wanted.

But Sonos Chief Legal Officer Eddie Lazarus argued that neither Google nor Amazon appeared to be trying for true interoperability.

Google contractually prohibits Sonos from using technology that allows users to switch between Amazon’s Alexa and the Google voice assistant, Lazarus said. 

He said Amazon’s effort to work with smaller companies was ‘just an on-ramp into the Amazon ecosystem because you can’t mix and match between the big companies.’

It comes at a time of extraordinary interest in tougher antitrust enforcement, much of it focused on the biggest U.S. technology companies. 

One result has been a series of investigations and several federal and state lawsuits filed against Google and Facebook as well as a long list of antitrust bills. 


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