Sonos Wins Big Against Google in ITC Ruling

Posted on January 6, 2022 by Paul Thurrott in Android, Chromebook, Google, Hardware, Music + Videos, Pixelbook, Smart Home, Sonos with 12 Comments

The International Trade Commission (ITC) ruled today that Google cannot import phones, laptops, or speakers into the United States because they violate five Sonos patents. Furthermore, it must stop selling infringing devices it has already imported.

“Google has violated section 337 of the Tariff Act of 1930, as amended, by importing, selling for importation, or selling in the United States after importation certain audio players and controllers, components thereof, and products containing the same that infringe one or more claims of [five Sonos patents],” the ITC ruling explains. “The Commission has determined that the appropriate remedies are a limited exclusion order and a cease and desist order against Google.”

The immediate impact is unclear as the ban takes place in 60 days unless the president of the United States vetoes the order, which is highly unusual. All of Google’s smart speakers and smart displays violate some or all of the relevant patents, but it’s not clear if all of its Pixel-branded smartphones and laptops do. Google devices without an audio system, like Nest thermostats, are not affected by the ban. Regardless, Google can make changes to its products so that they do not impact the Sonos patents, and that could solve the problem.

Sonos declared the ruling an “across the board win” as its stock price jumped in after-hours trading. And there are still two Sonos court cases pending against Google, one of which was waiting on the outcome of the ITC investigation.

“While Google may sacrifice consumer experience in an attempt to circumvent this importation ban, its products will still infringe many dozens of Sonos patents, its wrongdoing will persist, and the damages owed Sonos will continue to accrue,” a Sonos statement reads. “Alternatively, Google can — as other companies have already done — pay a fair royalty for the technologies it has misappropriated.”

Google was a bit less happy with the ruling.

“While we disagree with today’s decision, we will ensure our shared customers have the best experience using our products and do not experience any disruption,” a Google spokesperson said. “We will seek further review and continue to defend ourselves against Sonos’ frivolous claims about our partnership and intellectual property.”

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Comments (12)

12 responses to “Sonos Wins Big Against Google in ITC Ruling”

  1. miamimauler

    Oh well, looks like many more college funds for the lawyer's children will be paid for with this one.

    This is quite the story though. Google are in a pickle here it seems.

  2. Chris_Kez

    There isn’t really a chance that Google stops selling all this stuff in 60 days, right? Surely they’ll come to a licensing agreement with Sonos, or there will be some legal remedy.

    • wright_is

      There isn't also much they can do to modify the products to get around the patents.

      The patents are around streaming and simultaneous playback from multiple streaming devices (stereo and surround sound through multiple independent streaming speakers).

      The only way Google could get around the problem is to make their streaming speakers not stream, which makes them pretty useless, only Alexa queries. Or they would have to download playlists for local playback. As the patents weren't rejected, I'm guessing Google will have to settle.

      That would probably also see the prices of its products rise to cover the patent costs.

  3. lvthunder

    Google should just buy Sonos. In the long run it might be cheaper.

  4. scovious

    Apple must be shocked Sonos was successful, after Google ripped off most of their phone patents and got away with it.

  5. Daekar

    Ouch, that's a lot harsher than I expected to see... not that it hurts my feelings one way or another. If there isn't some very clever way to keep the music streaming functionality, Google is going to have no choice but to pay to license the technology - it would demolish their IoT device market share in a stroke if they don't.

    This is making just playing to multiple Bluetooth speakers look even better than it did already... service and app agnostic, streaming or local, and invulnerable to this kind of nonsense.

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