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Smart speaker wars: judge rules that Google infringed on five Sonos patents

Sonos One (and, initially, won)
(Image credit: Sonos)

Google is guilty of infringing Sonos’s patents, according to an initial ruling from a US International Trade Commission judge. 

Sonos has been embroiled in a back and forth legal tussle with Google since January 2020, when it sued the search giant claiming that, under the guise of looking over Sonos's blueprints in order to make its own music service compatible with the products, Google stole five of its patents relating to smart speakers – including one that lets wireless speakers sync with and communicate with each other.

In a statement to The Verge on Friday, Sonos said that the ruling “is only a first step in a lengthy battle” – the company is also aiming to sue Google on five further counts of infringement – but added that it is an “important milestone in the ongoing effort to defend Sonos’s technology against Google.”

As part of its initial suit, Sonos had also requested a ban on the sale of Google kit in the US, to include Nest Hubs, Chromecasts, and Pixel smartphone handsets. But Google fought back, filing a countersuit in June last year alleging that the Santa-Barbara based wireless speaker manufacturer was using Google's patented technology for software, networking, search, audio processing, digital-media management and streaming, without paying a license fee. This only caused Sonos to launch a fresh case, claiming that Google had infringed another quintet of patents in addition to the original five.

An International Trade Commission judge found that Google had infringed on all five of the patents cited in the original suit but, as noted by the New York Times, it isn’t a final decision – the ITC will consider the case as well and issue its own ruling, which is set to happen on December 13th. 

The news comes as Sonos reportedly issued a survey to its loyal customer base to gauge feedback on an Alexa- (and, of course, Google Assistant-) rivalling feature called 'Sonos Voice Control' to add more vocal smarts to its product lines, even though some Sonos propositions already support Amazon Alexa

In terms of days in court, this is not Sonos's first rodeo. In 2019, the company filed lawsuits reportedly totalling more than 100 patent infringement allegations against rival Bluesound, and in 2018, Denon (then under D&M Holdings) eventually settled out of court when Sonos sued the Japanese audio company for patent infringement with its Denon HEOS multi-room system.

Google spokesperson José Castañeda issued this statement to The Verge: "We do not use Sonos’s technology, and we compete on the quality of our products and the merits of our ideas. We disagree with this preliminary ruling and will continue to make our case in the upcoming review process."

The case continues. 

MORE: 

See all our Sonos reviews

Read all our Google reviews 

Check out our pick of the best smart speakers 2021: the best voice assistant speakers

Becky has been a full-time staff writer at What Hi-Fi? since March 2019. Prior to gaining her MA in Journalism in 2018, she freelanced as an arts critic alongside a 20-year career as a professional dancer and aerialist – any love of dance is of course tethered to a love of music. Becky has previously contributed to Stuff, FourFourTwo, This is Cabaret and The Stage. When not writing, she dances, spins in the air, drinks coffee, watches football or surfs in Cornwall with her other half – a football writer whose talent knows no bounds.