Jan 7, 2020 - Technology

Sonos sues Google over speaker tech

Photo of multicolored smart speakers from Sonos
Photo: Sonos

Speaker maker Sonos on Tuesday sued Google for patent infringement and asked a trade court to bar importation of some Google products that are manufactured overseas.

Why it matters: Sonos has been trying to add smarts to its speakers while touting their audio quality to deal with a flood of competition from tech players offering inexpensive smart speakers. It had previously worked with Google to bring that company's voice assistant to its speakers.

Driving the news: Sonos filed suit in federal court and also filed a complaint with the U.S. International Trade Commission, which has the power to bar the importation of products found to infringe patents.

Our thought bubble: In its suit, Sonos says that Google has not only been infringing patents but also flooding the market with less expensive products.

  • That latter claim seems true on its face, though likely not unlawful, and is the heart of the challenge Sonos faces.
  • There are a ton of Amazon and Google smart speakers on the market, and those companies can make money by selling advertising and services, where as Sonos is trying to profit by selling hardware.

What they're saying:

  • Sonos CEO Patrick Spence: "Google is an important partner with whom we have collaborated successfully for years, including bringing the Google Assistant to the Sonos platform last year. However, Google has been blatantly and knowingly copying our patented technology in creating its audio products."
  • Google spokesperson Jose Castaneda: "Over the years, we have had numerous ongoing conversations with Sonos about both companies' IP rights and we are disappointed that Sonos brought these lawsuits instead of continuing negotiations in good faith. We dispute these claims and will defend them vigorously."

The bottom line: Google is facing broad investigations by federal and state authorities into potentially monopolistic behavior, and each new challenge from smaller competitors could fuel the antitrust bandwagon.

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