Sonos secures a victory in audio patent fight against Google
ITC judge rules you can't sue over invalid patents, but the fight goes on
The years-long legal drama resulting from a brief fling between Google and smart speaker maker Sonos has resulted in another loss for the Chocolate Factory, which had its claims of copyright infringement tossed out by a US International Trade Commission (ITC) judge Friday.
Google's ITC complaint [PDF] alleging four violated patents was filed in August last year, just one day after it made allegations of the same patent infringements against Sonos in California. The ITC administrative law judge Cameron Elliot said [PDF] Google wasn't able to get around counter-arguments from Sonos' legal team, despite Alphabet's gobs of money buying the finest commercially available jurists.
For the first of the patents, 11,024,311, Google "has proven infringement," of claim 10, except "Sonos has proven the invalidity of claims 10,11,16 and 17," The judge said.
Google also managed to prove Sonos had infringed on claims 1, 5, 6, 9, 16, 17 and 19 of patent 11,050,615, but Sonos was able to prove the invalidity of those patent claims as well. As such, "Google has not proven the existence of articles protected by any claim of [the 615 patent]," the judge said.
As for the third patent it claimed Sonos had infringed, "Google has not proven infringement of any asserted claim," Elliot determined. While he has yet to issue a full decision, he said that the initial determination is that there's nothing in Sonos hardware that's violating a Google patent in any manner that would make importation of products illegal.
- Firmware is on shaky ground – let's see what it's made of
- Google sues Sonos yet again, claiming it stole IP and infringed patents
- Google: We disagree with Sonos patent ruling so much, we've changed our code to avoid infringement
- I've got a broken combine harvester – but the manufacturer won't give me the software key
"We appreciate and agree with the judge's decision rejecting Google's claims and finding that all of Sonos' accused products are in fact properly imported," said Sonos CFO and general counsel Eddie Lazarus. "This is the fifth jurisdiction (including Canada, the Netherlands, Germany, and France) in which Google has sued Sonos and lost."
Talk about a messy breakup
Like a pair of friends who dated for a month, had a messy split, and can't decide who gets custody of the cactus they bought together, Google and Sonos had a brief fling in 2013 and have been fighting about whose intellectual property is whose ever since.
Their first legal fight came in 2020 when Sonos sued Google for allegedly infringing on some of its sound-sharing patents. "Google is an important partner with whom we have collaborated successfully for years," Sonos CEO Patrick Spence told The Register back then, alleging that Google had been "blatantly" copying Sonos tech for some time.
"Despite our repeated and extensive efforts over the last few years, Google has not shown any willingness to work with us on a mutually beneficial solution."
All of those lawsuits have been on hold until Sonos' complaints to the ITC get resolved. The first decision from this was issued early in 2022 and found Google had infringed on five Sonos patents. Google was forced to make software changes to avoid international import restrictions on several of its smart speakers and smart home devices.
Since the ITC's decision was made the California, trials have resumed, with one case concluding in May and finding Google liable for $32.5 million (£26m) in royalty payments due to Sonos for copyright infringement.
Other lawsuits filed by Google against Sonos in California are ongoing, but appear to be on hold based on pending ITC investigations, one report [PDF] of which is still open, but which is also on hold pending in inter partes review of a similar complaint filed with the US Patent and Trademark Office.
"As both the ITC and a jury in Northern California have found, Google is wrongfully using Sonos' technology. The time has long since come for Google to stop litigating and start negotiating a fair royalty for the Sonos inventions on which Google's audio products are based," Lazarus told us.
While Sonos was happy to tell us of its victory, Google didn't have much to say. All we got out of it was a brief statement: "We are disappointed with this decision and are reviewing what our next step will be," spokesperson José Castañeda told us.
In other words, don't expect the drama between these two to end anytime soon. This is why lawyers have such lovely summer houses. ®