Google’s loss to Sonos settles it: Big Tech has an IP piracy problem

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The US International Trade Commission ruled on January 6 that Google had infringed upon Sonos’ patented innovations in wireless speaker technology. This may sound like a vague legal decision regarding a complicated battle over intellectual property. But it confirms a problem that threatens America’s innovation economy and its international economic competitiveness.

Problem? Intellectual property theft.

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Years ago, big tech companies like Google decided they made more profit by stealing than by buying or licensing smaller companies’ intellectual property. Google, Apple, Samsung and others – with cash reserves in the tens, even hundreds, billions of dollars – do not have to pay legal fees, court costs or even damages for this theft. could. Google has made a report $142 billion in cash in the bank. This is much more than the total annual profits of most companies.

Big Tech thus takes what it wants. It then uses scorched-earth litigation tactics to assault IP owners when they complain. This eliminates many years of litigation and imposes heavy litigation costs on IP owners seeking justice. Many IP owners don’t even file a lawsuit. They know that trying to defend what is right is destructive and self-defeating.

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Simply put, Big Tech benefits from stealing IPs. The legal costs and potential damages, if ever issued after years of litigation, are comparatively low.

Some companies have fought back, and the results confirm this violent infringement practice. The story of Google’s abuse of Sonos is more telling.

Sonos is a classic American success story, and Google’s theft of its technology is a tragedy. Sonos began as a disruptive startup in 2005 with its groundbreaking patented innovation in wireless speakers. It secured a licensing deal with Google in 2013, when Google agreed to make its music service, Google Play Music, work with Sonos speakers.

Simply put, Big Tech benefits from stealing IPs. The legal costs and potential damages, if ever issued after years of litigation, are comparatively low. Adam Mossoff

But Google only used the deal to gain access to Sonos’ technology. It soon began making its own equipment with Sonos’ technology, including speakers and other audio equipment that competed directly with Sonos’ speakers and other products in the market.

Google didn’t have Sonos to cover its development costs, and it could subsidize its new products and services with its large profits from its search engine business. Thus, Google lowered the prices of Sonos – a common business practice by patent pirates.

Sonos first attempted to negotiate a deal with Google, asking Google to pay for licenses for pirated technologies from Sonos. Google held out for years, dragging on negotiations while its profits soared and Sonos lost more and more money. Seven years later, Sonos was left with no choice but to defend its rights in court. Sonos sued Google in 2020.

Sonos also sued Google at the International Trade Commission. This special court can move faster than regular courts in restricting infringing imports. But it cannot award compensation.

Last August, a judge at the International Trade Commission ruled that Google had in fact infringed on five of Sonos’ patents. Last week the commission confirmed the decision. Google still calls Sonos’ claims “frivolous” and promises to continue the fight.

This is just one prime example of Big Tech’s illegal use of other people’s patented technologies. It’s so common that it now has a name: violent infringement. Legal scholars and policy winners call this an “efficient infringement.” In plain English, this is piracy.

Unfortunately, Big Tech is attacking the US patent system to further support its piracy. Google and other companies have spent millions of years lobbying Congress and regulators to weaken and eliminate patents while rigging systems against innovators. For example, he created a “patent troll” boogeyman to smear patent owners who sue him for infringement—as if the problem was not his own theft, but the gall to fight his victims’ backs.

Washington must act to protect innovators and creators who rely on patents as a key driver of the American innovation economy. Congress must reintroduce and enact bipartisanship Strong Patent Act, The law would bring balance to the patent system by reforming some of the legal rules and institutions Big Tech lobbied to create that are critical to its violent infringement strategy practices.

Sonos’ legal victory over Google confirms which policy won out and what lawyers have been talking about for years: Violent breaches of Big Tech are 21st-century piracy, and Sonos is just one of many victims. Washington can and should help end this piracy.

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