Audio company Sonos has sued Google for allegedly copying its patented speaker technology while undercutting it at market. The New York Times reports that it filed two lawsuits covering five patents on its wireless speaker design. Sonos is also asking for a sales ban on Google’s laptops, phones, and speakers in the US through a separate case with the International Trade Commission.
Sonos claims that Google stole its multiroom speaker technology after getting access to it through a 2013 partnership. The original partnership would let Sonos speakers support Google Play Music, but the company allegedly used patented technology in its now-discontinued Chromecast Audio device, then continued to use it in the Google Home lineup of smart speakers and the Pixel product lineup. Meanwhile, Sonos says Google subsidized its own products to sell them at a cheaper price while using them to extract more data from buyers.
Sonos says it warned Google about the infringement several times, starting in 2016, a few months after Google announced its Home smart speaker. It claims to have repeated the warning in 2018 — after the release of the Google Home Max and Home Mini — and by February 2019, it had accused Google of infringing on 100 Sonos patents. The lawsuit cites numerous news reports that point out similarities between Google’s new product features and systems that Sonos had already pioneered, including synchronizing audio across groups of speakers, adjusting the group volume, and setting up devices on a local wireless network.
“Google is an important partner with whom we have collaborated successfully for years, including bringing the Google Assistant to the Sonos platform last year. However, Google has been blatantly and knowingly copying our patented technology in creating its audio products,” Sonos CEO Patrick Spence tells The Verge. “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.”
In the Times, Sonos argues that Google took the opposite tack by sabotaging its attempts to stand out. It describes an attempt to make a smart speaker that could simultaneously support multiple voice assistant platforms, which ended with Google and Amazon forcing Sonos to make users pick one during setup. And Sonos executives claim Google has promised to pull its assistant off the speakers if it ever appears alongside a major competitor.
The list of allegedly infringing products is exhaustive. In addition to the Chromecast Audio and Google Home lineup, it includes the Chromecast and Chromecast Ultra; the Nest Mini, Nest Hub, Nest Hub Max, and Nest Wifi Point; and the Pixel phones, Pixel Slate tablet, and Pixelbook laptop. (The Pixel devices are listed as “infringing hardware controller devices” that have infringing Google audio apps preinstalled.)
Sonos claims that Amazon has also violated its patents with the Echo device family, but the Times writes that its executives decided against “battling two tech giants in court at once.” Amazon and Google both denied infringement claims to the Times. “Over the years, we have had numerous ongoing conversations with Sonos about both companies’ IP rights and we are disappointed that Sonos brought these lawsuits instead of continuing negotiations in good faith. We dispute these claims and will defend them vigorously,” a Google spokesperson told The Verge.
The lawsuit is about more than individual patents — it’s a response to increasing anti-competitive pressure from tech giants. Sonos still relies on ties with Google and Amazon, which make the leading virtual assistants for smart speakers, among many other products. Spence tells the Times that he has spoken with House of Representatives staffers about testifying before the antitrust subcommittee. Meanwhile, Sonos recently acquired a “private-by-design” AI voice platform called Snips to compete with Google Assistant and Amazon’s Alexa.