Sonos scored an early victory in its case against Google Friday, when the US International Trade Commission ruled that Google infringed five of Sonos’ smart speaker patents. The ruling is preliminary and subject to a full ITC review, but it could lead to a ban on Google smart speakers.
In January 2020, Sonos brought a patent infringement case against Google targeting Google’s smart speakers, the Google Home, and later the Nest Audio line. Sonos is the originator of Internet-connected speakers that easily hook up to streaming services, while Google speakers combine a similar feature set with voice-activated Google Assistant 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 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 tiny company compared to the tech giants it regularly battles. The 19-year-old company only has products in the connected speaker market, and it has a $5 billion market cap. Its competitors—Google, Amazon, and Apple—are some of the world’s biggest companies, each with a market cap above $1.5 trillion. To make matters more complicated for Sonos, the company relies on both Google and Amazon to do business in search, advertising, and retail sales, and it worried about retaliation from the two giants. Plus, once Amazon and Google entered the market, Sonos was forced to adopt support for both voice assistants in order to compete. Back in 2020, Sonos said Amazon also seemed to be using its technology, but it would focus its legal efforts on Google.
TechCrunch got statements from both sides of the fight. First up, Sonos Chief Legal Officer Eddie Lazarus told the site, “Today the ALJ has found all five of Sonos’ asserted patents to be valid and that Google infringes on all five patents. We are pleased the ITC has confirmed Google’s blatant infringement of Sonos’ patented inventions. This decision re-affirms the strength and breadth of our portfolio, marking a promising milestone in our long-term pursuit to defend our innovation against misappropriation by Big Tech monopolies.”
Meanwhile, Google said, “We do not 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 make our case in the upcoming review process.”
A final ruling should happen on December 13, and it’s not just speakers that could be banned if the two companies don’t make nice. The products that connect to those speakers, like Pixels and Chromecasts, could also be shut down.