Back in January, Sonos filed a lawsuit against Google, telling the story of a company that used its power to steal intellectual property and infringe on 100 separate patents. The claims even raise the topic of antitrust. The filing called for the courts to ban the sale of most Google-made products with any relationship to audio. Google is now firing back with its own countersuit aiming to shut down the initial attack.
Sonos's claim accused Google of stealing intellectual property while the two collaborated on bringing Google Assistant to some of Sonos's line of connected speakers. While over 100 patents were reportedly infringed, Sonos only brought five to court, citing lack of resources to carry out a prolonged legal battle. In addition to damages, patent fees, legal costs, Sonos sought to have an injunction on sales of any Google products infringing any of the associated patents.
Google's defense tells a different side to the story that begins in 2013 when Sonos approached Google about integration with Play Music. During that time, the two collaborated on several projects and Google shared access to many of its own technologies that are now used in Sonos products.
The countersuit names five of Google's own patents involving DRM, content notifications, personalized search, noise and echo cancellation, and wireless mesh networking. The filing effectively asks the court to throw out Sonos's initial claims, grant an injunction against Sonos's infringing products, and reward Google with the usual legal costs and damages.
Google executives have spoken in the past that the company's patent portfolio is intended to be used as a defensive measure against patent cases rather than a tool to make profits on licensing.
Some passages of the countersuit have a tone that suggests the two companies should be on good terms, and sometimes focus on the productive results of the work they've done together.
Google is proud of its more than five-year partnership with Sonos, and has worked constructively with Sonos to make the companies’ products work seamlessly by building special integrations for Sonos. For instance, when Google rolled out the ability to set a Sonos speaker as the default option for Google Assistant, it was the first time Google had done that for any partner company.
Sonos CEO Patrick Spence spoke to The Verge and gave this response to the countersuit:
Instead of simply addressing the merits of our case, and paying us what we’re owed, Google has chosen to use their size and breadth to try and find areas in which they can retaliate. We look forward to winning our original case, and winning this newly filed retaliatory case as well.
As we saw in the past with Eero, and have seen most recently with Zoom, Google seems to have no shame in copying the innovations of smaller American companies in their attempts to extend their search and advertising monopolies into new categories.
We’re mostly sad to see a once innovative company that started with the mission of ‘Do No Evil’ avoid addressing the fact they’ve infringed on our inventions, and have instead turned to strong arm tactics that the robber barons of old would have applauded.
This case will likely take a while to shake out, but it's certainly possible the two companies will come to an amicable resolution. Regardless of Sonos's strategy, an expensive legal battle is risky and Google has the assets to ride it out.
You can read the full legal text here.