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Sonos Sues Google for Infringing Multi-Room Audio Patents (4)

Jan. 7, 2020, 4:59 PMUpdated: Jan. 7, 2020, 7:53 PM

Sonos Inc. sued Google in Los Angeles federal court Jan. 7 for allegedly infringing five patents covering multi-room audio technology.

According to the complaint, Google misuses Sonos’s patents in “more than a dozen different infringing products, including, for example, the Google Home Mini, Google Home, Google Home Max, and Pixel phones, tablets, and laptops.”

The harm from Google’s alleged infringement has been “profoundly compounded by Google’s business strategy to use its multi-room audio products to vacuum up invaluable consumer data from users and, thus, further entrench the Google platform among its users and ultimately fuel its dominant advertising and search platforms,” Sonos says.

Google denies it infringes the patents and says it will fight the suit.

“Over the years, we have had numerous ongoing conversations with Sonos about both companies’ IP rights and we are disappointed that Sonos brought these lawsuits instead of continuing negotiations in good faith,” a Google spokeswoman told Bloomberg Law.

“We dispute these claims and will defend them vigorously,” she said.

Sonos says it partnered with Google in 2013 to integrate Google Play Music into its audio platform, but Google later copied Sonos’s technology to use in its Chromecast Audio device, followed by a “direct attack” on Sonos’s multi-room audio products with its Google Home product line.

Sonos says Google’s Home Max “in particular was seen as a ‘Sonos Clone’ and a ‘not so-subtle copy” of a Sonos speaker,” and that the Google Home Mini “predatorily implemented Sonos’s valuable patented technology into an all-in-one wireless multi-room product that Google sells at a super-cheap subsidized price point or even gives away for free.”

Google allegedly infringes U.S. Patent Nos. 8,588,949, 9,195,258, 9,219,959, 10,209,953, and 10,439,896, Sonos says. According to Sonos, the patents cover innovations such as adjusting volume levels for devices in different rooms with one controller, synchronizing audio playback among devices, and setting up a playback device on a wireless local area network.

The lawsuit “could help thwart current and future competition from the tech giants” but threatens to “strain relationships with important business partners,” Robert Muller, an analyst with RBC Capital Markets LLC, said in a note to clients. Muller said it is likely to be a “long, drawn-out process” that could ultimately help the company either with additional revenue or its value as an acquisition target.

Gadget Talk

Sonos is a leader in the market for wireless home sound systems, which allow users to seamlessly listen to music or podcasts in multiple rooms of their homes. The company has to compete with bigger, more well-established brands like Google, Apple Inc. and Inc.

In the lawsuit, Sonos accuses Google of intentionally using the smaller company’s inventions starting in 2015. That was the year that Google doubled down on hardware, turning its grab bag of experiments with devices into a single division set on building out new lines of revenue.

Most of Google’s gadgets are designed to compete with Amazon and Apple in areas like voice-assistants, which pose a threat to Google’s core business. For that reason, the search giant has been able to sell its audio devices at a steep discount, as a “loss leader” to support advertising, as Sonos argues in its case.

In September, Sonos introduced a new product called Sonos One SL that doesn’t have an internal microphone so it won’t listen to what people are saying in the privacy of their homes. It’s meant to be a counter to products from companies like Google and Amazon, whose primary businesses are in advertising and commerce.

Sonos also says Google infringes the patents willfully. Sonos put Google on notice of the alleged infringement in 2016, the complaint says.

Cause of Action: Patent infringement.

Relief: Damages, injunctive relief, attorneys’ fees.

Attorneys: Orrick, Herrington & Sutcliffe LLP and Lee Sullivan Shea & Smith LLP represent Sonos.

—With assistance from Susan Decker (Bloomberg) and Ian King (Bloomberg).

The case is Sonos, Inc. v. Google LLC, C.D. Cal., No. 2:20-cv-00169, 1/7/20.

(Updates with analyst comment in the 10th paragraph.)

To contact the reporter on this story: Blake Brittain in Washington at (Bloomberg Law); Mark Bergen in San Francisco at (Bloomberg)

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Rob Tricchinelli at (Bloomberg Law)