Google infringed on Sonos speaker technology, court rules

In early November, when Android 12 had just left Beta, we reported that Google had disabled controlling nearby Chromecast sessions by using the volume keys of an Android device. When casting to your Android TV from your smartphone, it suddenly became impossible to control the volume of the TV using your phone. The disappearance of this feature was blamed on an ongoing court tussle between Google and Sonos.

Sonos had made claims to the trade courts that Google was infringing on several of the audio company’s patented works, and, as a result, Google had to drop some of the features in contention until the courts made a final ruling, which it now has.

The US-based trade court has ruled that, indeed, Google infringed on five audio technology patents held by the speaker manufacturer Sonos, and as a result is not allowed to import products that violate Sonos’ intellectual property into the United States.

The final ruling was made by the United States International Trade Commission, which has the power to block the importation of goods that violate patents, bringing to an end a two-year investigation involving the two companies.

Some of the products produced by Google that Sonos claimed to have used their patented works include Google Home Speakers, Pixel phones and computers, and the Chromecast streaming device.

All the items mentioned above, are made in China, then imported into the USA, hence the import ban. However, the ban will be effective in 60 days, after the matter has been subject to a presidential review.

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“We appreciate that the I.T.C. has definitively validated the five Sonos patents at issue in this case and ruled unequivocally that Google infringes all five,” Eddie Lazarus, the chief legal officer at Sonos, said in a statement. “That is an across-the-board win that is surpassingly rare in patent cases.”

Google, on the other hand, expectedly disagreed with the ruling and said that it would work to ensure that there was no disruption in the products used by customers or its ability to sell or import devices. The company also said that the preliminary ruling in August approved alternative product designs that work around the patents, and that the commission did not challenge that decision in their ruling.

“We will seek further review and continue to defend ourselves against Sonos’s frivolous claims about our partnership and intellectual property,” Mr. Castañeda, Google spokesman, said in a statement.

Since the ruling involves products that have already been released, the impact to Google’s portfolio should be minimal as newer products will be using different technology that does not have patents that infringe on Sonos.

This, still, might not be the end of this saga, as Sonos still has a number of claims against Google in different courts that were awaiting the ruling of the main trade court before proceeding, since some of the issues in dispute overlapped.

Sonos and Google had worked in the past together starting from 2013 when they were not competitors. This all changed in 2015 when Google made a device to stream music, which it followed up with the Google Home Speaker in 2016. Google suddenly becoming a competitor with their seemingly unending budget changed the relationship between the two companies.

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Naftaly is a Computer Science graduate with a passion for tech, video games and pop culture. When he is not writing articles for AndroidKenya, he is probably rewatching the Lord of the Rings trilogy for the hundredth time. Email at criskariuki@gmail.com Twitter @KarisNaftaly