Bloomberg Law
May 5, 2023, 9:23 PM

Google Faces Fierce Trial Over Sonos Smart-Speaker Patents

Christopher Yasiejko
Christopher Yasiejko
Senior Correspondent

Sonos Inc. and Alphabet Inc.’s Google are set to clash over millions in royalties for smart-speaker technologies, with a federal jury trial beginning Monday in a case criticized as typifying “the worst of patent litigation.”

Jurors in the US District Court for the Northern District of California will hear one big part of a sprawling global battle between the tech rivals. If Sonos prevails, royalties awarded in the case could influence its ability to seek similar amounts from other companies that allegedly rely on the same technology.

Google and Sonos once partnered to integrate Google Play Music into Sonos products, but Sonos in 2020 sued the tech giant, alleging Google incorporated what it had learned about the technology into its own Home and Chromecast systems.

Each side has accused the other of bad behavior, with lawsuits filed in San Francisco, Texas, Canada, France, Germany, and the Netherlands. Related complaints were filed at the US International Trade Commission, which can block imports of infringing products.

Judge William Alsup, who will preside over the trial, scolded both companies for tactics he called “emblematic of the worst of patent litigation” after they submitted roughly 5,000 pages of arguments and evidence over a pre-trial dispute involving an expert’s report.

Court-directed mediation attempts failed to resolve the case, according to the docket, paving the way for a contentious trial centering on Sonos’ US Patent Nos. 10,848,885 and 10,469,966, which are related to controlling audio speakers in several rooms at once. Both are often referred to as the “multi-zone management” patents. Bloomberg Law estimates they will expire in September 2027.

Sonos is seeking $90 million, a pittance of the $3 billion in damages it was seeking when two additional patents were still part of the case, according to a recent court filing. Sonos alleges the latest figure would include damages only from when the two remaining patents issued—in November 2019 and November 2020—through the fall of 2022.

Bloomberg Intelligence analyst Tamlin Bason previously pegged Sonos’ chance of securing a royalty agreement or “a material damages award” at 60%. A license agreement, he said, could yield as much as $50 million annually—about 0.3% of the $17.4 billion in estimated US sales of the accused products in 2021.

Such a pact “may set benchmarks for royalties from other rivals like Amazon that Sonos claims also infringe its patents,” he said.

Google said that Sonos “has not articulated any viable theory” for its damages figure, calling it “excessive.” It said that if a jury decides to award damages, “Google will demonstrate that a lump sum award based on the cost to implement non-infringing alternatives and/or technically comparable patent agreements is more appropriate.”

Alsup last month nixed a separate bench trial that would’ve followed, saying jurors will determine whether Google’s design work-around infringes the patents—“unless the evidence is so clear that the court can resolve the issue” during the trial.

‘Google Home’ App

A range of cast-enabled devices are accused of infringing the ‘855 patent.

In his final pretrial order last week, the judge identified the products targeted for infringement of the ‘966 patent as “computing devices with the Google Home app installed, irrespective of whether they happen to have the YouTube Music app or the Google Play Music app installed.” Devices that merely have YouTube Music or Google Play Music installed, he said, “are not accused products.”

Alsup also agreed to limit the testimony of Google’s damages expert, blocking W. Christopher Bakewell from testifying about a patent-licensing settlement proposal between the parties and a term sheet that predates the September 2020 lawsuit.

“If a cease-and-desist letter exists, however, it may be entered into evidence,” Alsup said.

The judge deferred ruling on Google’s requests to exclude evidence related to Sonos’ damages theory, saying there “are serious questions” surrounding it and its experts’ associated testimony.

“For now, Sonos will be allowed to put this evidence on,” he said, “with the understanding that the undersigned may strike it from the record, tell the jury to disregard it, and grant one of these motions in limine under Rule 50, if appropriate,” after having heard the evidence and cross-examination.

He urged both sides to consider having their damages experts “testify back-to-back to assist the jury.”

Juror Pre-Excusals

Alsup on May 5 told each side’s lawyers to state by Monday whether they’ll agree to “a minimum size for our jury of five (instead of six), for obvious reasons.”

An earlier order cited “the quantity of pre-excusals” as prompting the addition of 10 potential jurors to the selection pool.

Bloomberg Intelligence’s Bason wrote in an April 17 note that Alsup’s mixed ruling canceling US Patent No. 10,779,033—one of the case’s three remaining patents at the time—“further eroded” Sonos’ edge in the long-running dispute.

That, coupled with a March ruling that revived an infringed patent’s validity as an issue to be tried, means damages are “no longer certain,” he wrote.

“Absent an accord, our base-case damages award is $75 million,” he said, “though that could go up or down depending on how many of the remaining two patents are valid and infringed.”

Lee Sullivan Shea & Smith LLP and Orrick, Herrington & Sutcliffe LLP represent Sonos. Quinn Emanuel Urquhart & Sullivan LLP represents Google.

The case is Sonos Inc. v. Google LLC, N.D. Cal., No. 3:20-cv-6754, trial begins 5/8/23.

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

To contact the editors responsible for this story: Jay-Anne B. Casuga at; Adam M. Taylor at

Learn more about Bloomberg Law or Log In to keep reading:

Learn About Bloomberg Law

AI-powered legal analytics, workflow tools and premium legal & business news.

Already a subscriber?

Log in to keep reading or access research tools.