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It's now Google's turn to sue Sonos

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(Image credit: Google)

Google has filed two lawsuits against Sonos, accusing the multi-room speaker manufacturer of patent infringement relating to the technology it uses for voice control and wireless charging.

The new cases were filed in the United States District Court for the Northern District of California yesterday. The first relates explicitly to how Sonos speakers implement hot word detection and wireless charging, while the second focuses on the technology Sonos uses to select which speaker in a networked group should respond to a vocal command. 

In a report for The Verge (opens in new tab), Google confirmed its immediate intention to file further suits with the US International Trade Commission to restrict the import of any Sonos products that carry the alleged infringement. Google, it seems, did not come to play.

The filings mark the latest round of litigious court rendezvous for the two companies, which have been legally sparing since 2020 when Sonos originally sued Google over its multi-room speaker technology.

The basis of that claim related to an earlier, more innocent time when both brands had collaborated on a project to bring some of Google's services to Sonos speakers, initially in 2013 to improve the functionality of Google Play Music on Sonos speakers and again in 2016 to integrate Google Assistant.

But Google muscled in on Sonos' turf when it began producing smart speakers in 2016, and Sonos has since claimed that the company has misappropriated its intellectual property to use in its own devices, arguing that for Google to design its music service to be compatible with Sonos' speakers, it had asked Sonos to hand over the blueprints to its speakers, which it naively did. 

"Google has been blatantly and knowingly copying our patented technology," said Patrick Spence, Sonos' chief executive, in 2020. "Despite our repeated and extensive efforts over the last few years, Google has not shown any willingness to work with us on a mutually beneficial solution. We’re left with no choice but to litigate."

Google disputed Sonos' initial infringement case and then countersued, claiming Sonos had appropriated a number of its own patents. Sonos then retaliated with five further violations, and eventually, after two years of back and forth, the US trade court ruled that Google was guilty of infringing Sonos’ patents in January of this year. Google has since been forced to alter the way users change the volume of its smart speakers in a multi-room set-up.

Since that ruling, however, Sonos has ventured into Google's territory, launching its own voice control system, Sonos Voice Control, which the company asserts is more secure and private than its competitors – and this appears to be the primary source of concern for the new case.

Regarding its latest lawsuit, Google spokesperson José Castañeda told The Verge the cases were being filed to “defend our technology and challenge Sonos’s clear, continued infringement of our patents.” Castañeda also said that Sonos had “started an aggressive and misleading campaign against our products, at the expense of our shared customers.”

In response, Sonos' chief legal officer Eddie Lazarus said that the claims were merely an  “intimidation tactic” designed to “retaliate against Sonos for speaking out against Google’s monopolistic practices” and “grind down a smaller competitor", which he asserted "will not succeed.”

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Mary is a staff writer at What Hi-Fi? and has over a decade of experience working as a sound engineer mixing live events, music and theatre. Her mixing credits include productions at The National Theatre and in the West End, as well as original musicals composed by Mark Knopfler, Tori Amos, Guy Chambers, Howard Goodall and Dan Gillespie Sells.