Google Infringed on Sonos Audio Patents, Trade Court Rules

Google Infringed on Sonos Audio Patents, Trade Court Rules
Google's smart speakers, plus some of its other devices, have been found to infringe on existing Sonos patents. (Photo: Gizmodo / Andrew Liszewski)

Google’s smart speakers and Android devices are a major part of its vision for a connected ecosystem, which could be in jeopardy after a trade court’s ruling today.

The United States International Trade Commission (ITC) ruled that Google infringed on audio patents held by Sonos. (You can view a PDF of the ruling here.) The ruling means that Google is no longer allowed to import products that infringe on Sonos’s intellectual property — its gadgets are manufactured overseas — and the commission served the company with a cease-and-desist. The ruling is headed for President Biden’s desk, and Biden then has 60 days to veto the order.

The commission spent two years investigating whether Google had violated the Tariff Act of 1930, a law established to prevent unfair competition from imported products that violate U.S. patents, trademarks, and copyrights. The commission had been in deliberations since last August, after a judge had preliminarily ruled Google had infringed on patents.

Sonos had asked the ITC to block imports of Google products that infringe on its patents, including Google Home smart speakers, Pixel smartphones, and Chromecast devices. A Google spokesman told Bloomberg that it had been working to redesign its products after the preliminary ruling last August to avoid infringing on Sonos patents so there would be no disruption in sales.

“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,” Google spokesperson José Castañeda said. “We will seek further review and continue to defend ourselves against Sonos’ frivolous claims about our partnership and intellectual property.”

Sonos initially filed its complaint back in January 2020 after reportedly warning Google on multiple occasions about the alleged infringements. Sonos CEO Patrick Spence claimed at the time that Google had “blatantly and knowingly” copied its patented audio technology. The patents in question appear related to Google’s casting infrastructure, like how it handles multi-room playback between network devices.

Sonos has said previously that it would like Google to licence its technology, and the two companies reportedly discussed such an arrangement. Sonos Chief Legal Officer Eddie Lazarus estimated that Google had infringed on more than 150 of the company’s patents.

Google still has the opportunity to appeal the ruling after the presidential review period, so it’s unclear whether the company will soon have to start selling different versions of its devices.