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Saturday, August 14, 2021

Google Infringed on Patents Owned by Sonos, a Trade Judge Says

Google Infringed on Patents Owned by Sonos, a Trade Judge Says

“Sonos is seeking to ban the import of several Google products that are made in China. The preliminary finding will now be reviewed by the full United States International Trade Commission.

A Google Home smart speaker.
Dave Paresh/Reuters

OAKLAND, Calif. — Google infringed on speaker-technology patents held by Sonos and should not be allowed to import products that violate Sonos’s intellectual property, a judge said in a preliminary finding by the United States International Trade Commission that was released on Friday.

In January 2020, Sonos sued Google in federal court and in front of the United States International Trade Commission, a quasi-judicial body that decides trade cases and can block the import of goods that violate patents. Google later filed a countersuit against Sonos, claiming that Sonos was infringing on its patents.

Sonos had asked the commission to block imports of Google Home smart speakers, the company’s Chromecast systems and its Pixel phones and computers. Those products are made in China and shipped to the United States.

The brief ruling did not explain why the judge, Charles E. Bullock, believed Google had violated the Tariff Act of 1930, which aims to prevent unfair competition through actions such as the import of products that infringe on U.S. patents, trademarks or copyrights.

The judge’s ruling is not the last word. The full commission has to consider whether to accept or reverse his decision for a final ruling, which is scheduled to take place on Dec. 13. If an import ban is imposed, it wouldn’t take effect for 60 days — well after the holiday shopping season.

José Castañeda, a spokesman for Google, said the company does not use Sonos’s technology. “We disagree with this preliminary ruling and will continue to make our case in the upcoming review process,” he said.

On Wednesday, Eddie Lazarus, Sonos’s chief legal officer, called Google a “serial infringer” of Sonos patents. On a conference call with analysts, he estimated that Google had infringed on more than 150 patents owned by Sonos, although it raised issues only with five patents to the commission. The case in front of the commission is just “the tip of the iceberg,” he said.

On Friday, Mr. Lazarus said in a statement, “This decision reaffirms the strength and breadth of our portfolio, marking a promising milestone in our long-term pursuit to defend our innovation against misappropriation by Big Tech monopolies.”

Sonos has said that Amazon is also violating its patents — a charge that Amazon denies. Sonos executives have said it pursued legal action against only Google because it did not know if it could sue two tech giants at the same time.

Sonos pioneered the market for home speakers that can be controlled by a smartphone and can synchronize music wirelessly between different speakers throughout the house. In recent years, Google, Amazon and Apple have pushed into the market for voice-controlled speakers. Sonos also offers speakers that use the Google Assistant software or Amazon’s similar Echo technology to control the device.

Sonos and Google are also locked in legal disputes over patents in California and Texas as well as France, Germany and the Netherlands.

Sonos’s share price rose 6 percent in after-hours trading on Friday.

Daisuke Wakabayashi covers technology from San Francisco, including Google and other companies. Previously, he spent eight years at The Wall Street Journal, first as a foreign correspondent in Japan and then covering technology in San Francisco. @daiwaka

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