Sonos’ Patent Win Will Change Google’s Smart Speakers—for Now

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on Thursday, The US International Trade Commission, which rules import laws, determined that Alphabet-owned Google Audio technology patents infringed A significant victory for Sonos in the two-year-long David vs. Goliath lawsuit, organized by smart speaker company Sonos. The commission said Google has infringed on five Sonos patents, and issued a “limited exclusion order” that prohibits the importation of certain audio technologies, controllers and components made by Google.

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Google, surprisingly, says it’s not backing down: It plans to appeal, and has 60 days to do so before the ITC’s decision goes into effect. Meanwhile, Sonos has two patent infringement cases against Google still pending in federal court. “Those two pending lawsuits are significant, because the ITC does not have the authority to award damages,” says Peter Toren, a Washington DC-based intellectual property attorney.

But Google apparently speculated that this could be the result of ITC’s review, since in August 2021 the company Introduced a series of product redesigns To ITC Judge Charles Bullock, who set out the proposed solution No Sonos’ patent infringement. After ITC’s decision yesterday, Google shared some of the changes it is making to its smart speaker.


then how does Will the ITC’s ruling, which has the potential to block all imports of certain products until Google comply, affect the product experience? For one, the changes Google will make will apply to Google smart speakers and Nest Hub displays. Google hasn’t provided a full list of affected devices, so it’s unclear whether this affects other Google products, such as Pixel phones or Chromebooks. According to spokeswoman Nicole Addison, the updates will begin rolling out “in the coming days.” And for now, the updates are all software-based.

Google says the ability to adjust speaker volume by group will be gone; Customers will now need to adjust the volume of each speaker individually. And, “you will no longer be able to change the volume of your speaker group using your phone’s physical volume buttons,” the company says. Casting functions will also be affected on non-Google smart devices with Chromecast, such as those made by Lenovo or JBL, unless the speaker is updated to the latest firmware. And some users will no longer experience automatic software updates on their smart speakers; Instead, they have to download and install a device utility app. This will “make sure your device is connected to Wi-Fi and receives the most updated software version,” says Google.

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These may seem like relatively small changes, but a big part of the appeal of multiroom wireless smart speakers—a market Sonos helped pioneer when it first launched 20 years ago—is the ability to sync and control multiple speakers at once. Capacity. Some of the ease of use will be eliminated with these changes.

ITC’s decision may also affect Google’s design in the future. And depending on the results of federal lawsuits, more changes could come down the line. (One of them, which was filed in US District Court in Los Angeles, is on hold until the ITC’s decision is finalized, According to the new York Times, The second case, which was filed in US District Court in San Francisco, is moving forward.)

Sonos Google sued for the first time in January 2020, alleging that a technology partnership with Google was first entered into in 2013, ultimately leading to Google stealing Sonos’ intellectual property. (Sonos claimed that Amazon also stole Sonos’ IP and undercut the company with cheap smart speakers, but decided to focus its legal efforts on Google, as Sonos went against two giant tech companies. Couldn’t afford double lawsuits.) “Our patents are clearly and intentionally copying the technology,” said Patrick Spence, chief executive of Google, Sonos in 2020.

The lawsuit is specifically considering that Sonos and Google are still partners in technology: Sonos’ new smart speaker can be controlled by Google’s voice assistant, something Sonos was forced to integrate Because it was years behind in developing its own AI-powered voice assistant. , And in the suit, Sonos claims that Google made stricter rules for using its voice assistant after Sonos sought to start licensing its proprietary technology.

Google has strongly opposed these allegations. In response to ITC’s decision this week, the company says it “disagrees” with the decision. “We appreciate that the International Trade Commission has approved our revised designs and we do not expect any impact on our ability to import or sell our products. We will seek further review and further review of our partnership and Will continue to defend itself against Sonos’ frivolous claims about intellectual property,” says Google spokesman Jose Castaneda.

Sonos said in a statement to Chief Legal Officer Eddie Lazarus that it is pleased that ITC has “conclusively validated the five Sonos patents at issue in this case and unequivocally ruled that Google infringes all five.” … These Sonos patents cover Sonos’ groundbreaking invention. Extremely popular home audio features including set up to control home audio systems, synchronization of multiple speakers, independent volume control of different speakers, and stereo pairing of speakers.”

Lazarus further said that Sonos believes Google will “degrade or eliminate product features” in order to circumvent ITC’s import ban; But even if Google does, its products “will still infringe on several dozen Sonos patents, its wrongdoings will persist, and Sonos will continue to accrue damages.”

Toren, the IP expert, believes that, given Google’s cash pile and influence, there’s a good chance that federal court cases will end in some sort of settlement, with a global licensing agreement in place. . But that doesn’t mean any company will go down without an (ongoing) fight. Pamela Samuelson, a technology law researcher and specialist in digital copyright law and intellectual property at UC Berkeley, said in an email that “all the big tech companies treat themselves as if they have bigger goals on their backs because they expect smaller ones.” Will bring such cases.”

“Often they settle down, but they also fight back, especially when they feel the patent is weak or the patent is unreasonable in their demands.”

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