Last year, we learned that Sonos was attacking Google, asking the United States International Trade Commission to ban the sale on its soil Google Home speakers, smart displays Nest Hub or streaming dongles chromecast. A year later, the body responsible for settling commercial disputes has just ruled in favor of the multiroom specialist and prohibited the web giant from importing connected speakers on American soil ...
Google has violated Sonos patents
In January 2021, Sonos asked the United States International Trade Commission to block imports of a number of Google products it said violated more than a dozen patents, and in particular five patents relating to its multiroom technology. Patrick Spence, CEO of Sonos, then declared that he no longer had "No choice but to plead in the interest of protecting inventions" of his company, explaining to the New York Times that Google had not shown « no willingness to work […] on a mutually beneficial solution ”. War was declared!
"This is an extremely rare general victory in patent cases"
A war in which Sonos now seems to have gained the upper hand, the American commercial court having just ruled in its favor. "We appreciate that the ITC has definitively validated the five Sonos patents at issue in this case and unequivocally ruled that Google is infringing all five", welcomed Eddie Lazarus, legal director of Sonos yesterday, stressing in a press release that "This is an extremely rare general victory in patent cases".
For its part, the Mountain View giant said through José Castañeda, its spokesperson, to want to ask "A closer look" of the question, renewing his wish to continue defending himself "Against Sonos' frivolous allegations regarding our partnership and our intellectual property".
Google is granted 60 days to make the necessary changes to its products, after which the company must stop importing and selling on American soil its Nest speakers and Nest Hub screens, as well as its Chromecast streaming dongles or even its smartPixel phones, all of these products that infringe Sonos' patents.
“We do not anticipate any impact on our ability to import or sell our products.” Mr. Castañeda told the site The Verge, pointing out that the International Trade Commission had already approved the workarounds offered by his company. Changes that were soon to have a painful impact on Google Home users ...
Google Home speakers lose important features
Although only revealed yesterday to the general public, the decision had actually been in effect since last August, when Google began to make some changes to its products. Thus, users of Google Home in France were able to observe in particular the disappearance of volume control from speaker groups to voice, but also from the home application. While it is still possible to act on these groups from the screens of the Nest Hub and Nest Hub Max, the functionality should disappear shortly since it is directly affected by the patent. In the United States anyway.
In one blog post on the subject, a community manager of the firm explains that, following "A recent legal decision", it is necessary that « set each speaker individually instead of using the group volume controller ' to adjust the volume of a speaker group.
The Google Nest team tempers, specifying that the "Most speaker groups should continue to work as expected, unless you have a speaker group that contains other brands of Cast-based devices, like JBL or Lenovo, they should be on the Cast firmware version 1.52.272222 or higher ” and that alone "A small number of users will need to use the" Device Utility "(DUA) application to complete installation and product updates".
“Google can, as other companies have already done, pay a fair royalty for the technologies it has hijacked. "
An amicable settlement?
While there is little doubt that Google is working hard on the subject and will do everything to avoid too much inconvenience to its users, would it not have been easier to compensate Sonos for the use of its patents? ?
In any case, this is what Eddie Lazarus suggests for whom “Google can, as other companies have already done, pay a fair royalty for the technologies it has hijacked. " Without explicitly citing the company, the lawyer of Sonos here refers to Amazon that he had confided that he did not have the means to attack at the same time as Google, but with whom the dispute has since been settled amicably, in return for probably very significant financial compensation that the e-commerce giant would have apparently preferred to poor advertising.
A precedent that Google would probably do well to learn from, Sonos does not seem to have said its last word. The two companies are indeed locked in a trench warfare, the giant led by Sundar Pichai having retaliated with a "counter-prosecution" in June 2020, pushing Patrick Spence's teams to file a new complaint in September 2020 alleging that his opponent in fact infringed a dozen additional patents. “Google may sacrifice the consumer experience in an attempt to circumvent this import ban, its products will continue to infringe dozens of Sonos patents, its harms will persist, and the damage from Sonos will continue to accumulate” recalls the company in a press release.