A US trade agency is taking a closer look at Sonos Inc’s allegations that Alphabet Inc infringes patents on home audio systems and is considering whether to shut down some Google smart home devices, phones and laptops from the US market.
The International Trade Commission said it will review part of the judge’s findings that Google infringed five Sonos patents and authorized product redesigns of any infringement. Both companies asked the agency to review aspects of the judge’s findings that conflict with them.
Specifically, the commission said it would review whether the products accused of infringing two patents were “goods in violation of time of import.” The commission said it would not review the remaining cases in the judge’s decision, and would consider a possible remedy, which could mean an import ban. A final decision is due on January 6.
Sonos said the notice means the administrative law judge’s finding about the breach will remain.
“We are pleased that the panel will confirm ALJ’s ruling that all five Sonos patents in question are valid and that Google is infringing all five of the patents,” the company said. “We also look forward to further engaging with the commission on the details of the compensation we are entitled to, and pursuing our compensation case in district court.”
Google has denied using Sonos technology.
“We compete on the quality of our products and the merits of our ideas,” said Jose Castaneda, a Google spokesperson. “We have disagreed with the initial ruling and will continue to bring our case into the review process.”
Sonos claims that Google learned about Sonos technology under the guise of a working partnership to integrate Google Play Music into Sonos products, but instead used the patented ideas in Home systems, Chromecasts, Pixel phones, and laptops. Google has filed its own lawsuits in district court accusing Sonos of trying to take credit for the Google-owned business.
Investors have been watching the ITC case closely, seeing it as a test of Santa Barbara, California-based Sonos’ ability to enforce its intellectual property, protect its market from competitors, and develop a new revenue stream in licensing. Sonos and Google have shared allegations of patent infringement in the United States and Europe.
Sonos wants to stop imports at the border, as well as an order that blocks sales of any Google products that have already been brought into the United States. President Joe Biden can rescind the import ban for public policy reasons, although presidents have rarely used this force.
Google’s gadget sales are a small part of its business; The company does not disclose hardware revenue. But Google has continued to invest in phones and home speakers as a strategy to bolster its search and media services against threats from Apple Inc. and Amazon.com. A committee.
Sonos said Google is trying to evade a potential import ban by citing “incomplete” products that should not be considered by a judge.
Google has acted to ensure that it is never affected by the import ban by “swamping the issue with virtual designs that are piecemeal, sporadic with no quality control, and never integrated into a product through any standard product design channels,” Sonos told the committee.
Sonos is backed by the Innovation Alliance, a group of patent holders including Qualcomm Inc. and AbbVie Inc. , which said big tech companies find it cheaper to use another company’s inventions and worry about litigation later, a strategy known as “active infringement.”
“Ultimately, if smaller companies cannot look to ITC to exclude articles that are competing unfairly in the marketplace, they may very well find themselves out of the market due to the ability of larger companies to use others’ patented innovations without significant consequences,” he wrote. Centripetal Networks Inc. , a cybersecurity company that won a $1.9 billion district court ruling against Cisco Systems Inc. which is currently subject to appeal.
Google said it had “expended significant resources designing” products that worked around Sonos’ patents, and that there was “compelling evidence” in their favour, even though “Sonos threw the kitchen sink into Google’s redesigns during this investigation”.
Two of the five patents include technologies to synchronize audio playback and thus eliminate subtle differences that the ear can interpret as echoes. Others include ways to pair speakers to create stereo sounds, adjust the volumes of individual speakers or groups with a single console, and a way to easily connect the system to your home Wi-Fi network.
The case concerns some audio players and consoles, 337-1191, US International Trade Commission (Washington).
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