The new year is only a week old, but a copyright lawsuit for the ages is already taking shape.
On Tuesday, Sonos, the home speaker specialists, sued Google in two U.S. federal court systems seeking damages and a ban on the sale of Google’s speakers, smartphones and other tech in the U.S., claiming Google stole its smart speaker plans and flooded the market with cheaper models.
The suit has its origins in 2013, when Google agreed to build its digital music service, Google Play Music, to work seamlessly with Sonos’ home sound systems. As part of that trusting relationship, Sonos handed over the keys to its technology.
Google was a software company, a search engine giant. What could go wrong?
This is where everything goes sour, say the Sonos team behind the suit.
In 2015, Google rolled out its own range of smart speakers under the now-discontinued Chromecast Audio line. Today, the Silicone Valley tech titan sits in third place in the global smart speaker market with its range of Google Home products, behind only Amazon and China’s Baidu.
According to analysis published by Canalys, Google shifted an estimated 4.3 million Home devices in the second quarter last year, for a 16.7% share of a multi-billion-dollar – and growing – global market.
Now, Sonos is crying foul and its execs admit naivety, if not a blunder, in a complaint which spans nearly 100 pages and accuses the tech giant of infringing multiple patents.
The company says it’s losing out, big time, with its smart speakers which sell only a fraction of the cheaper Google products.
“Google is an important partner with whom we have collaborated successfully for years, including bringing the Google Assistant to the Sonos platform last year,” comments Sonos CEO Patrick Spence in a statement sent to Billboard.
However, he adds, “Google has been blatantly and knowingly copying our patented technology in creating its audio products.
Despite our repeated & extensive efforts over the last few years, Google has not shown any willingness to work with us on a mutually beneficial solution. We’re left with no choice but to litigate in the interest of protecting our inventions, our customers, and the spirit of innovation that’s defined Sonos from the beginning.”
In its suit, filed in U.S. District Court in California, Sonos claims it warned Google of patent infringements on several occasions in 2016, 2018 and as recently as 2019, by which time its reps had identified roughly 100 patents that had been violated.
A Google spokesman told the New York Times that both companies had discussed their IP for years and “we are disappointed that Sonos brought these lawsuits instead of continuing negotiations in good faith.” Also, the spokesman added, “We dispute these claims and will defend them vigorously.”
Sonos’ Spence and his top brass will get a chance to testify at an open hearing scheduled for Jan. 17 with House antitrust leaders.
The session will be the fifth hearing of the House Judiciary Committee’s antitrust investigation into tech giants, including Facebook and Google.
Australians love their smart speakers.
According to research published by Edison, smart speaker adoption a year ago reached almost 30% (or 5.7 million) of Australia’s adult population, compared to about 26% in the U.S.
Google Home was the first entrant in the smart speaker industry in these parts, arriving in the summer 2017. That advantage helped it to a commanding 68 per cent market share in January 2019.