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Google Expands Sonos Audio-Patents Fight With Two More Suits (2)

Aug. 8, 2022, 10:00 AMUpdated: Aug. 8, 2022, 4:29 PM

Alphabet Inc.'s Google LLC filed two lawsuits Monday in a California federal court, alleging in one that Sonos Inc.’s audio players with a voice-control feature infringe three patents, and in the other that they infringe four different patents, expanding an already heated battle over royalties for various technologies.

Both complaints were filed in the US District Court for the Northern District of California, where Judge William Alsup last week issued a ruling that canceled a Sonos patent, resolving the second of two issues covered in last month’s “patent showdown” between the longtime partners.

Sonos “started an aggressive and misleading campaign against our products, at the expense of our shared customers,” said José Castañeda, a Google spokesperson. “We prefer innovation to litigation but their actions leave us no choice but to defend our technology and challenge Sonos’s clear, continued infringement of our patents.”

Sonos’ chief legal officer, Eddie Lazarus, said in a statement that Google already had “sued us all over the world and Sonos has prevailed in every decided case.” He said the courts “have repeatedly validated Sonos’ claims that Google is infringing its core patented smart speaker technology.”

“Google’s new lawsuits are an intimidation tactic designed to retaliate against Sonos for speaking out against Google’s monopolistic practices, avoid paying Sonos a fair royalty for the roughly 200 patents it is currently infringing, and grind down a smaller competitor whose innovations it has misappropriated,” Lazarus said. “It will not succeed.”

In the new suits, Google says it has provided its Google Assistant software to Sonos “for many years.” Google says its engineers “have worked for years assisting and instructing Sonos engineers” about the inclusion of voice recognition and voice-activated device controls in Sonos’ products.

The tech giant also says Sonos “has made false claims about the companies’ shared work and Google’s technology in the lawsuits that Sonos filed against Google.”

Efficiency Via ‘Hotwords’

In Monday’s three-patent suit, Google says Sonos introduced the voice-control feature “to control its products in a power-efficient manner through the use of ‘hotwords,’ and to manage battery charging of its products, using technologies invented by Google.” It alleges infringement by products including the Sonos Move, Roam, Roam SL, Arc, Beam, and One.

In the other suit, Google says Sonos included the voice-control feature “to coordinate among voice-controlled devices and commission devices onto a wireless local area network.” That complaint alleges infringement of four patents by products including the Sonos One, One SL, Move, Roam, Roam SL, Five, Arc, Beam, and Ray.

Google also plans to file a complaint at the US International Trade Commission with similar allegations in the coming days, Castañeda said. In the trade case, he said, Google will ask for a ban on US imports of Sonos’ allegedly infringing products.

At July’s “showdown,” Alsup had each party deliver its self-selected best summary judgment argument. Sonos zeroed in on the Google products’ alleged infringement of a multi-zone management patent, which Bloomberg Law estimates will expire in September 2027. In a July 21 ruling, Alsup agreed with Sonos that the products infringe and rejected Google’s arguments to cancel the patent.

The Sonos patent that Alsup nixed on Aug. 2 is one of four for its wireless sound technology that Google products with sound systems, and the apps that control them, allegedly infringe. Sonos says Google learned of the technology while working to integrate Google Play Music into Sonos products, then incorporated the patented ideas in its Home and Chromecast systems and Pixel phones and laptops.

Alsup ruled the Sonos patent invalid and found Google’s “Cast-enabled apps"—including Google Home, Google Play Music, and YouTube Music—wouldn’t have infringed it anyway. Bloomberg Law estimates it would have expired in December 2031.

In May, Alsup postponed until October a combined trial that had been slated for mid-July.

Google already had filed its own claims in district court accusing Sonos of trying to take credit for work owned by Google, and says Sonos has “misrepresented our partnership and mischaracterized our technology.”

Cause of Action: Patent infringement.

Relief: Damages in amounts to be proven at trials, including trebling of all damages awarded; injunctions; prejudgment interest; attorneys’ fees; and costs.

Attorneys: Google is represented by Quinn Emanuel Urquhart & Sullivan LLP.

The cases are Google LLC v. Sonos Inc., N.D. Cal., No. 3:22-cv-4552, complaint filed 8/8/22 and Google LLC v. Sonos Inc., N.D. Cal., No. 3:22-cv-4553, complaint filed 8/8/22.

(Updates to add Sonos comments in fourth and fifth paragraphs.)

To contact the reporter on this story: Christopher Yasiejko in Wilmington, Del., at cyasiejko@bloombergindustry.com

To contact the editors responsible for this story: Rob Tricchinelli at rtricchinelli@bloomberglaw.com; Patrick L. Gregory at pgregory@bloomberglaw.com