Audio equipment maker Sonos has won a legal victory in its legal battle with Google, as a US trade judge found that some Pixel smartphones and Nest speakers infringe on Sonos’ technology and could be barred from import.
US International Trade Commission Judge Charles Bullock found Google infringed on five patents related to audio synchronisation, adjusting volume and connecting to Wi-Fi.
The initial decision, which still faces several hurdles before it can go into effect, could give Sonos a boost as it presses Google to strike a royalty agreement, which industry watchers say could be worth up to $50 million (£36m) annually.
“This decision re-affirms the strength and breadth of our portfolio, marking a promising milestone in our long-term pursuit to defend our innovation against misappropriation by Big Tech monopolies,” said Sonos chief legal officer Eddie Lazarus.
Google has denied Sonos’ claims and says it independently developed the technologies it uses.
“We disagree with this preliminary ruling and will continue to make our case in the upcoming review process,” Google stated.
Sonos, founded in 2002, has seen sales skyrocket during the pandemic as people upgrade their audio systems, and reported $1.34bn in sales during its latest fiscal year ended 3 October.
But it faces increasing competition from tech giants such as Amazon, Apple and Google that also make their own proprietary voice-assistant technology.
Lacking its own voice assistant, Sonos has been forced to license those of Amazon and Google, which it continues to sell in Sonos speakers, even as it battles Google in court.
The speaker maker reported a $20m loss last year.
Sonos has participated in recent regulatory attacks on large tech companies, testifying before the Senate that they subsidise products to gain market share and use the data they collect to increase their market power.
The company has also launched a number of legal attacks against Google over the past year, including cases in California, Texas, France, Germany and the Netherlands.
The ITC judge’s decision must be reviewed by the full commission, which can accept or modify it, with a final decision due in December.
The US Trade Representative can then accept the ruling or veto it out of public interest.
Any ban would not be introduced until early next year, and would have a minimal financial effect on Google, for which hardware accounted for only 12 percent of its $182.53bn in total revenues last year, with the bulk of sales derived from advertising.
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