August 14, 2022
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Sonos wins ruling that Google violated its patents

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The U.S. International Trade Commission ruled in favor of Santa Barbara-based Sonos once again on Jan. 6, with a finding that Google infringed on five Sonos patents relating to smart speakers and audio.

The ITC reaffirmed its decision from August, stating that Google violated section 337 of the Tariff Act of 1930 by infringing on Sonos patents related to synchronizing audio across multiple speakers as well and other related speaker technology.

In its final ruling, the commission issued a cease and desist order against Google as well as affirmed an import ban that would block Google products that infringe upon those Sonos’ patents. The ban goes into effect in 60 days.

The Google products in question include certain features of its Nest speakers. The company has already announced a workaround that will require users to adjust the volume on those speakers individually, rather than as a group.

“We appreciate that the ITC has definitively validated the five Sonos patents at issue in this case and ruled unequivocally that Google infringes on all five,” Sonos Chief Legal Officer Eddie Lazarus said. “That is an across-the-board win that is surpassingly rare in patent cases and underscores the strength of Sonos’s extensive patent portfolio and the hollowness of Google’s denials of copying.”

The final ruling was in line with the ITC’s preliminary ruling in August, which found that Google violated the Tariff Act and should be faced with an import ban. It can be reversed by an order of President Joe Biden, though that would be an unusual step in an ITC case.

Google spokesman José Castañeda said Jan. 6 that the company disagrees with the ITC’s decision, and pointed to the commission’s approval of alternate product designs that could let Google work around the Sonos patents.

Those designs were not challenged during the final ruling, giving Google license to import and sell those products.

“We will seek further review and continue to defend ourselves against Sonos’ frivolous claims about our partnership and intellectual property,” the company said in a statement.

Lazarus said while the possibility exists that Google will “degrade” or “eliminate” product features to get around the import ban imposed by the ITC, Sonos belives Google will still be infringing on “dozens” of Sonos patents.

“Its wrongdoing will persist, and the damages owed Sonos will continue to accrue,” Lazarus said. “Alternatively, Google can —as other companies have already done —pay a fair royalty for the technologies it has misappropriated.”

Sonos still has two other patent infringement cases against Google ongoing at the federal level, which were stayed pending the result from the ITC, a Sonos spokesperson told the Business Times. One was filed in Los Angeles while the other was filed in San Francisco.