Amazon and Google's plays for user data have pushed the battle of the virtual assistants into the living rooms, kitchens, and bedrooms via the smart speaker. Sonos, which makes a number of audio products compatible with both Alexa and Google Assistant, feels it has been squeezed by both companies of its intellectual property in the middle of this war. However, The New York Times reports the company has decided to target only Google in two federal lawsuits and has sought sales injunctions for its speakers, smartphones, and laptops.
Sonos had been biding its options for several years ever since Amazon and Google debuted their smart speakers — it investigated how Echo and Google Home speakers communicated with like units and found that they used Sonos's own protocol. Over time, the company counted up infringements against 100 patents — including property for wireless control for analog speakers that may have been used in the Chromecast Audio. Sonos confronted Google for license fees in 2016. Google responded with rates Sonos considered to be "almost nothing."
The maker of soundbars and speakers is also worried about the giants participating in antitrust practices — flooding the market with cut-price products where the closest traditional competitor couldn't possibly match the price point. An entry-level Sonos One smart speaker costs $199. Compare that to an Echo Dot or Nest Mini at $35 apiece. Amazon and Google sold more than 16 million speakers in the third quarter alone compared to Sonos's 6 million for the 12 months to September.
So, why is Sonos only suing Google in Los Angeles District Court over just five patents? Executives say they just don't have the capital. The company also risks surrendering any advantage in negotiations with vital service partners who have a massive capacity to retaliate across other verticals. That said, filing a complaint with the U.S. International Trade Commission will allow Sonos to chase after a sales injunction and hoist it over Google's fledgling hardware department at a time when it's still struggling to find footing.
Amazon said it developed its multi-room communication technology independently. Google said it is disappointed in the lawsuits and will defend itself against them.
- The New York Times