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Google, Sonos Slammed by Court Over Sprawling Patent Dispute

Nov. 23, 2020, 6:09 PM

A San Francisco front in a “global patent war” between Google LLC and Sonos Inc. was stayed after the court found Google’s suit to be an improper attempt at forum shopping.

The U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California also called the companies’ multifront battle “emblematic of the worst aspects of patent litigation” on Nov. 20.

“The resources invested into this dispute already are doubtless enormous,” Judge William Alsup said. “By the end, our parties’ legal bills will likely have been able to build dozens of schools, pay all the teachers, and provide hot lunches to the children.”

Sonos first sued Google in Los Angeles federal court in January for allegedly infringing five patents. Sonos said it partnered with Google to integrate Google Play Music into its audio platform, and Google copied Sonos’ technology to use in its Chromecast Audio device. Google Home speakers were a “direct attack” on Sonos’ multi-room audio products, Sonos said.

The court said the parties “have managed to escalate their dispute seemingly without bound, filing suits in the [International Trade Commission], twice in this district, in the Central District of California, in the Western District of Texas, in Canada, France, Germany, and the Netherlands.”

In this case, Google sued Sonos in San Francisco for a declaration that it doesn’t infringe five Sonos patents shortly after Sonos told it of its plans to sue for patent infringement in West Texas.

Sonos asked the court to move the case to Texas in October, arguing it was “difficult to imagine a clearer example of an anticipatory suit and a disorderly race to the courthouse.” The court agreed with Sonos Nov. 20.

After Sonos told Google of its plans, Google “turned around and filed its own complaint at the twelfth hour, purely to beat” Sonos to court, “not even by a full day, but by a matter of hours.” The court accused Google of “leaving no good deed unpunished.”

Google’s complaint also failed, the court said, because it didn’t explain how its accused products don’t infringe.

“This order repeats, to emphasize that this is not an exaggeration, that Google’s complaint offers no allegation of fact in support of the claims of noninfringement,” Alsup said.

The court stayed the case, and said it would defer to the West Texas court’s upcoming ruling on Google’s motion to transfer that case to San Francisco.

“It is, of course, certainly possible that Sonos is just as guilty of forum shopping here as Google,” the court said.

Quinn Emanuel Urquhart & Sullivan LLP represents Google. Orrick, Herrington & Sutcliffe LLP represents Sonos.

The case is Google LLC v. Sonos Inc., N.D. Cal., No. 3:20-cv-06754, 11/20/20.

To contact the reporter on this story: Blake Brittain in Washington at bbrittain@bloomberglaw.com

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

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