The legal battle between Sonos and Google escalated after a new decision by the US Customs Service.
As reported by Paul Thurott (opens in new tab)Google was found guilty by the Customs Service of breaking an import ban imposed by the International Trade Commission (ITC) after continuing to infringe five Sonos patents.
“The US Customs Service confirmed that Google was violating the import ban and continuing to import infringing products in violation of that ban. This discovery marks yet another example of how Google continues to misuse our intellectual property and act in complete disregard of the law. We remain committed to defending our intellectual property [intellectual property] and we will continue to do so, on behalf of our own technology as well as the broader innovation landscape,” said Sonos Chief Legal Officer Eddie Lazarus.
The legal battle has been ongoing since 2020, when Sonos first sued Google for patent infringement.
Sonos alleged that Google stole key elements of its multi-room technology after a 2013 partnership, accusing them of using its massive scale to produce competing products that undermine Sonos’s.
The ITC ruling in favor of Sonos in January of this year imposed an import ban on several major Google hardware products, including the Nest, Pixel and Chromecast.
In an effort to get around the ban, Google began introducing workarounds through software updates earlier this year for a wide range of its products. Among the changes was the degradation of its volume adjustment and initial network setup features for its smart home devices and speakers. This meant a less user-friendly experience for owners, with users having to adjust the individual volumes of all units in a group of speakers separately.
Despite these downgrades, Google still infringed on at least two Sonos patents on devices that were still importing after the ban.
Responding to this week’s new ruling, Sonos appeared to challenge Google with a direct order for them to make their products worse or pay to use their patents.
Reacting to the result, a Sonos representative told Thurott: “To avoid further import exclusions, Google should further degrade the customer experience or seek a fair licensing deal with Sonos.”
When contacted for comment, Google spokesman José Castañeda told via email;
“The US Customs Service has confirmed that Google audio players are not subject to an import ban. This decision temporarily affects a small number of Pixel users who are setting up a speaker or display for the first time with the Device app. Utility. We will work with them to minimize disruption. Our support teams are on hand to fix any issues and, if necessary, will ship replacement devices or offer a Google store credit. Over the years, we’ve worked hard to ensure our shared customers had a positive experience and we are disappointed that Sonos continues to use the legal system in a way that deliberately creates problems for these users.”
Analysis: A Big Win for Sonos…and a Potentially Big Loss for Google’s Smart Device Users
Sonos will rightly celebrate the latest legal salvo in this long-running dispute over its patents, with the result, no doubt, being a cause of major headaches among Google’s hardware team.
While the workarounds released to users so far haven’t necessarily changed the game in terms of the key features of Google’s affected devices, existing users have nonetheless been speaking out online about the reduced functionality some of their gadgets now have.
If this latest episode results in more feature rollbacks, Google’s smart device users hope the companies can gather around a table and close what is now likely to be an expensive deal for these pesky patents.
This would at least result in the experience for users reverting back to what it was before – but people might wonder why a company the size of Google/Alphabet didn’t just pay its debts to Sonos early on, instead of making the products people pay for. worse to use…