US regulator rules that Google infringed on Sonos speaker patents

The tech giant is facing an import ban on its speakers and Chromecast devices.


The US International Trade Commission has agreed with Sonos' claims that Google had infringed on its speaker and cast patents. It issued its initial decision back in August, and this finalizes its ruling, which prohibits Google from importing products found to have violated Sonos' intellectual properties. Since Google manufactures its products in China, that means it won't be able to gets them shipped to the US when the import ban takes effect in 60 days.

Sonos sued Google in 2020 over five patents, which include one that details a technology allowing wireless speakers to sync with one another. As The New York Times notes, the products affected include Google's Home smart speakers, Pixel phones and computers, as well as Chromecast devices. While Google is facing an import ban, a spokesperson said that the tech giant doesn't expect the ruling to interrupt its ability to import and sell devices.

"While we disagree with today's decision, we appreciate that the International Trade Commission has approved our modified designs," the spokesperson told Protocol. "We will seek further review and continue to defend ourselves against Sonos' frivolous claims about our partnership and intellectual property." The commission didn't challenge those alternative designs in its final decision, which means Google can implement them.

In fact, the Nest team has recently announced some changes to speaker groups, which it says is "due to a recent legal ruling." The most notable change is that, going forward, users will no longer be able to adjust the volume of all speakers in a group all at once. They'd have to adjust each speaker individually instead.

In a statement, Sonos Chief Legal Officer Eddie Lazarus admitted that there's a possibility that "Google will be able to degrade or eliminate product features in a way that circumvents the importation ban that the ITC has imposed." However, he said the tech giant's products will still "infringe many dozens of Sonos patents" — that is, unless Google pays Sonos royalties for its technologies.

His whole statement reads:

"We appreciate that the ITC has definitively validated the five Sonos patents at issue in this case and ruled unequivocally that Google infringes all five. That is an across the board win that is surpassingly rare in patent cases and underscores the strength of Sonos’s extensive patent portfolio and the hollowness of Google’s denials of copying. These Sonos patents cover Sonos' groundbreaking invention of extremely popular home audio features, including the set up for controlling home audio systems, the synchronization of multiple speakers, the independent volume control of different speakers, and the stereo pairing of speakers.

There is a possibility that Google will be able to degrade or eliminate product features in a way that circumvents the importation ban that the ITC has imposed. But 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. Alternatively, Google can —as other companies have already done — pay a fair royalty for the technologies it has misappropriated."