Sonos, perhaps one of the best-known premium audio companies right now, is suing Google. Here's what you need to know.
Why is Sonos suing Google?
Sonos has claimed that Google copied its patented speaker technology and is using it in Google Home products and Pixel products. It also claims Google subsidises its devices to sell them at a cheaper price, and it ultimately uses those same devices to collect data from buyers.
What is Sonos claiming in its lawsuit?
The New York Times reported that Sonos actually filed two lawsuits. They cover five patents for a wireless speaker design. They also claim that Google stole Sonos' multiroom speaker technology after accessing it through a partnership about seven years ago. Google allegedly used patented technology in Chromecast Audio, in order to let Sonos speakers support Google Play Music.
Google allegedly continued to use the tech – even including in the Google Home lineup and Pixel products. Despite infringement warnings, Sonos said Google has not shown any willingness to work with it on a mutually beneficial solution. Now, through a separate case with the International Trade Commission, Sonos is seeking a US sales ban on Google's laptops, phones, and speakers.
Google's Pixel devices are listed as “infringing hardware controller devices” because they have infringing Google audio apps pre-installed.
Does Sonos have any proof?
Starting in 2016, shortly after the first Google Home launched, Sonos said it began warning Google about infringement. By February 2019, and after repeated warnings, Sonos said it had accused Google of infringing on a total of 100 patents. The company's lawsuit even referred to several news reports that noted Google’s new features are similar to Sonos' existing features, such as:
- Synchronizing audio across groups of speakers
- Adjusting the group volume
- Setting up devices on a local wireless network.
Sonos also told The New York Times that, when it tried to make a smart speaker that could support multiple voice assistant platforms, both Google and Amazon told Sonos it had to make users choose one when setting up the speaker. Sonos claimed that Google threatened to yank its Google Assistant from Sonos' speakers if it's ever made available alongside a competitor like Alexa.
Which Google devices infringe on Sonos?
The allegedly infringing products include the Chromecast, Chromecast Ultra, the Nest Mini, Nest Hub, Nest Hub Max, and Nest Wifi Point, the Pixel phones, Pixel Slate, and Pixelbook laptop.
Why isn't Sonos suing Amazon too?
Sonos claimed that Amazon has also infringed its patents with the Echo lineup, but The New York Times reported that Sonos executives didn't want to fight both Google and Amazon – two tech giants – in court at once.
Have Google and Amazon responded?
Google and Amazon both denied Sonos' claims to The New York Times.
How does this all affect you?
It doesn't affect you at the moment.
But, if Sonos convinces the courts and ultimately wins its suits and sales ban, then it would presumably be a lot harder – if not impossible – to buy and use Google's entire hardware lineup and audio apps in the US.