Sonos and Google Lawyer Up

How many times has this happened to you? You become deeply attached to someone, and everything is just wonderful, and you sincerely hope and believe that you'll stay together forever. Then suddenly you are hiring a lawyer, and they hire a lawyer, and you realize the honeymoon is over.

Couples hire divorce attorneys. Companies hire patent attorneys. In both cases, there is a fundamental disagreement that adult discussion is unable to resolve. Couples fight over kids, and money. Companies fight over intellectual property, and money.

Which brings us to Sonos and Google. As you might recall, the companies were partnered for a time; Sonos made a big splash when Google agreed to make its Google Play Music music service compatible with Sonos technology. To make this happen, Sonos shared its know-how with Google. That was the honeymoon phase.

Now, Sonos Inc. is alleging that Alphabet Inc.'s Google used its partnership to steal its technology and use it to develop its own wireless speakers. In particular, Sonos alleges that Google is infringing on five Sonos wireless speaker patents including its patent on speaker-to-speaker communications. Further, Sonos is seeking a ban on the sale of Google's speakers, smartphones, and laptops in the United States. It is also seeking financial compensation. The lawsuit was filed with the U.S. International Trade Commission, and the U.S. District Court for the central district of California. Sonos is headquartered in Santa Barbara, California.

Sonos and Google first partnered in 2013, and Sonos alleges that Google began infringing in 2015 when it launched its Chromecast Audio. Subsequently, Sonos says that a dozen different infringing products were sold including the Google Home Mini, Google Home, Google Home Max, as well as Pixel phones, tablets, and laptops. Sonos states that it has warned Google of its possible infringement multiple times, and held multiple discussions, to no avail. Further Sonos claims that Google's wireless products allowed Google to pocket a tidy $3.4 billion in revenue in 2018 alone.

Google responds: "Over the years, we have had numerous ongoing conversations with Sonos about both companies' IP rights and we are disappointed that Sonos brought these lawsuits instead of continuing negotiations in good faith."

Without studying the patents in detail, and analyzing Google's products, I cannot have an opinion on the case. However, it's worth noting that it is not uncommon for companies to partner, part ways, and then find themselves competing. The case comes down to the patents themselves. The claims of the patents will precisely state what Sonos owns and thus what their patents protect.

If Google's wireless speaker technology falls within the claims, then Google has infringed. If they have independently developed wireless speakers that do similar things, but do them in ways that fall outside the Sonos claims, then they have not infringed. Attorneys and experts will have to dig through all that. In the end, if it goes to court, a judge or a jury will hear the evidence, and decide.

Another aspect to this case is the small company versus big company imbalance. Sonos is a pretty big outfit, but is dwarfed by Google. The latter can litigate until the cows come home, and in the end, even if it loses the case, the costs will be relatively small compared to the profits it will make from wireless speakers. Is it fair for a big company to make money from a technology that a small company also makes? Sure, but only if everyone's intellectual property is respected.

Interestingly, Sonos believes that Amazon has similarly infringed its patents, but says it lacks the financial pockets to go after both of the big companies at once. In response, Amazon notes that it partnered with Sonos and integrates Sonos' technology with its Alexa products but admits no wrongdoing.

And the outcome? Who knows. Sonos could drop the case, Google could show that the Sonos patents are invalid, the companies could settle, or the court could decide. In any case, check back in two, three, or four years or so, and we'll see who gets custody of the kids.

jnemesh's picture

Google's not going to fold as easily as Denon did. I predict they will fight this tooth and nail. Sonos does NOT own the entire concept of streaming music over a network!

Bosshog7_2000's picture

Google is a predatory company and I hope they lose this lawsuit. No, Sonos does not own the concept of streaming music over a network, but they have patents for certain technologies and if those were infringed then Google should pay.

sdse33's picture

Intriguing legal battle between Sonos and Google over alleged patent infringement. For legal advice or assistance, seek a reputable notary near you. Notarized documents can provide security and validity in legal matters. Stay informed on intellectual property disputes and legal proceedings for insights into complex cases like this