Pankhuri Malik is an IPilogue Writer, IP Innovation Clinic Fellow, and an LLM Candidate at Osgoode Hall Law School.
In the latest development in the global patent wars between Google and Sonos, Google has sued Sonos, having filed two suits in the United States District Court for the Northern District of California on August 8, 2022. Through these lawsuits, Google has accused Sonos of infringing seven (7) of its patents related to smart assistant technology, including detection of “hotwords” and wireless charging.
Google and Sonos’ spotty history
Google and Sonos have been trying to one-up each other since the beginning of the pandemic. As reported earlier, in January 2022, two years after Sonos filed the first patent infringement lawsuit against Google, the United States International Trade Commission issued a ruling in favour of Sonos holding Google’s products infringing on five of Sonos’ smart speaker related patents, and banning the import of goods with the infringing features into the US.
To circumvent the import ban, Google chose to roll back many features offered to its customers at the time of sale of the products. Expectedly, the decision to remove functionality instead of licensing the patents from Sonos has caused some friction with Google’s customers.
Allegedly, the companies had previously worked together to incorporate Google voice assistant on Sonos devices. But this relationship soured soon after, with Sonos accusing Google of monopolistic practices and of using patent laws to squash competition from small companies. Google, on the other hand, denies that they collaborated to develop new technology and accuses Sonos of leading a misleading campaign against Google.
Most interestingly, Sonos has accused Google of something called efficient infringement. Sonos claims that Google’s infringement of over 100 of Sonos’ patents is deliberate and a business model. Efficient infringement refers to Google’s bet that the cost of contesting and paying off patent infringement lawsuits will be significantly less than the profits earned from sale of the technology. Sonos also says that Google has been undercutting its prices to crowd competitors out of the market.
The present suit
On August 8, Google filed two lawsuits against Sonos accusing it of infringing seven of Google’s patents through a range of products, such as Sonos Move, Sonos Roam, Sonos Arc and Sonos One. The company also plans to file these actions before the United States International Trade Commission to ban imports of allegedly infringing Sonos products into the US.
Sonos has responded by accusing Google of using the lawsuits as an intimidation tactic against Sonos calling out Google’s monopolistic practices.
What may occur moving forward
Neither company has a history of using patent laws offensively. While Google continues to collect user data and uses online advertisements as its main money-maker, its approach on initiating litigation, like Sonos, has been lackadaisical.
But with both companies facing off in multiple jurisdictions, it remains to be seen if there is any merit to Sonos’ claim of efficient infringement.