Google has just been hit with a $32.5 million penalty for infringing on a patent held by Sonos. According to Law360, a California federal jury ordered the fine after determining that Google infringed on a patent Sonos holds relating to grouping speakers so they can play audio at the same time, something the company has been doing for years.
US District Judge William Alsup had already determined that early version of products like the Chromecast Audio and Google Home infringed on Sonos' patent; the question was whether more recent, revamped products were also infringing on the patent. The jury found in favor of Sonos, but decided a second patent — one that relates to controlling devices via a smartphone or other device — wasn't violated. They said that Sonos hadn't convincingly shown that the Google Home app infringed on that particular patent. This follows the dismissal of four other patent violations that Sonos originally sued over.
Google provided Engadget with the following statement: "This is a narrow dispute about some very specific features that are not commonly used. Of the six patents Sonos originally asserted, only one was found to be infringed, and the rest were dismissed as invalid or not infringed. We have always developed technology independently and competed on the merit of our ideas. We are considering our next steps.”
Sonos provided Engadget with the following statement: "We are deeply grateful for the jury’s time and diligence in upholding the validity of our patents and recognizing the value of Sonos’s invention of zone scenes. This verdict re-affirms that Google is a serial infringer of our patent portfolio, as the International Trade Commission has already ruled with respect to five other Sonos patents. In all, we believe Google infringes more than 200 Sonos patents and today’s damages award, based on one important piece of our portfolio, demonstrates the exceptional value of our intellectual property. Our goal remains for Google to pay us a fair royalty for the Sonos inventions it has appropriated."
Today's findings feels like a win for Sonos, who originally filed suit against Google all the way back in January of 2020. Specifically, Sonos claimed that Google gained knowledge of the patent through prior collaboration between the two companies, back they collaborated to allow for integration between Sonos's speakers and Google Play Music.
Since then, Google counter-sued Sonos, claiming that Sonos had in fact infringed its own patents around smart speakers. As with any good legal battle, Sonos then expanded its own lawsuit a few months later. More recently, Google sued Sonos in 2022, saying that its new voice assistant infringed on seven patents relating to the Google Assistant.
Whether today's decision will slow the legal battle between the two companies remains to be seen, though we'd expect the bickering to continue full-throttle in the months to come. There are plenty of suits out there between the companies that aren't yet resolved, and we'd expect Google to appeal this decision as well.
Update, May 26th 2023, 5:30PM ET: Added a statement from Google.
Update, May 26th 2023, 8:00PM ET: Added a statement from Sonos.