Hey Google, What’s Patent Infringement?: Sonos v Google case explored

February 19, 2020

2 min read

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What's going on here?

Sonos, a home audio company, is suing Google in two federal court systems in the US for the tech giant’s alleged infringement of its patented wireless speaker technology.

What does this mean?

Sonos first disrupted the market by introducing wireless speakers. In 2013, Sonos teamed up with Google to incorporate Google’s music services into its home speakers. In doing so, it gave Google engineers detailed diagrams explaining how the speakers interacted with each other wirelessly. A year later, Google released its own wireless speaker, the Google Home, which began outselling Sonos’ products. Sonos claimed Google “knowingly and wilfully” copied its patented multi-room music synchronisation system. They accused Google of infringing on five of its patents, including technology that allows wireless speakers to connect and synchronise with each other. Sonos executives claim Amazon also infringed on their patented technology but could only afford to litigate against one big tech giant. Both Google and Amazon came out with their own speakers, undercutting Sono’s prices, leading to a drop in Sonos’ IPO. Google and Amazon are able to offer their speakers at a steep discount which Sonos is unable to match. 

Sonos claims that Google tried to stifle arguments by insisting Sonos was violating patents and providing counter-proposals for licencing fees that amounted to them paying next to nothing. With the increasing dependence of smaller companies on Google and Amazon, both companies have been able to exploit their leverage to squeeze smaller traders.

What's the big picture effect?

Sonos sued Google in the Federal District Court in Los Angeles and the United States International Trade Commission (a quasi-judicial body that decides trade cases and can block the import of goods that violate patents) is seeking financial penalties and a ban on the sale of Google hardware, including phones and laptops. 

Intellectual property (IP) lawyers will most certainly play a role here in the protection of the basic ownership rights over the inventive work of Sonos. IP lawyers will be working to help their clients establish and protect intellectual capital through drafting licencing agreements to negotiating IP settlements. This lawsuit extends beyond individual patents as it is a response to the increasingly anti-competitive pressure from tech giants. This comes at a bad time for Google which is already facing antitrust investigations (for more information, see our article on that here) and congressional hearings over its practices, fueling concerns that Google is misusing its dominant position to squeeze rivals. Analysts at RBC Capital Markets say if successful, Sonos’ move could help thwart competition from tech giants but may also strain relationships with important business partners such as Google, Amazon, and Apple.

Report written by Robyn Ma

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