Sonos says Google has been stealing its patented tech for years

Wireless audio specialist Sonos is suing internet giant Google, claiming it has knowingly used its patented technology without paying for it since 2016.

The grievance relates to Google’s portfolio of smart, wireless, networked speakers, now going under the collective brand of Google Home. Sonos says it gave Google access to its patents in 2013 in order to allow Google Play Music to work on the Sonos platform. At the time Google had no competing hardware.

A couple of years later, however, the Chromecast Audio dongle was launched, which promised to connect regular speaker to the internet. Initially, as the Guardian reported, each connected speaker required its own audio source. But within a couple of months Google added a bunch of additional functionality, including multi-room support, which seems to be the first of the patent infringements.

Here are the main patents Sonos claims are being infringed, although there are another 23 not detailed in the suit:

  • US. Patent No. 8,588,949 – Method and Apparatus for Adjusting Volume Levels in a Multi-Zone System
  • US. Patent No. 9,195,258 – System and Method for Synchronizing Operations Among a Plurality of Independently Clocked Digital Data Processing Devices
  • US. Patent No. 9,219,959 – Multi Channel Pairing in a Media System
  • US. Patent No. 10,209,953 – Playback Device
  • US. Patent No. 10,439,896 – Playback Device Connection

“Google is an important partner with whom we have collaborated successfully for years, including bringing the Google Assistant to the Sonos platform last year,” said Sonos CEO, Patrick Spence. “However, 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.”

We’re not aware of any public Google response, but even if they have it will just be templated legalese claiming innocence, so let’s just take that as read. Sonos has filed suit in the Central California district court and also asked the International Trade Commission to block the importing of any of the products claimed to infringe the patents into the US. If Google is guilty of any of this it would be well advised to settle quickly as the PR from exploiting such a well-loved tech brand is unlikely to be good.

Sonos launches platform-agnostic smart speaker

Clever audio gadget maker Sonos has shown the way forward in the smart home with the launch of a speaker that will support all the major voice assistant platforms.

The Sonos One is apparently named to position it as the definitive smart speaker. It’s not only designed to support a bunch of audio streaming services, but also Amazon Alexa. On top of that support for Google Assistant and Apple AirPlay 2 will come next year via an OTA software update, but there was no talk of Siri or Cortana.

But the main event seems to be Alexa, and is further evidence of Amazon getting ahead of its rivals in the battle for the soul of the smart home. On top of this launch Sonos is also rolling out Alexa support to a bunch of existing Sonos products, giving Amazon a nice bit of instant installed-base. Despite this apparent cosiness with the internet giants, Sonos couldn’t resist a dig at their hardware.

“We live in a golden age of streaming entertainment,” said Sonos CEO Patrick Spence. “But so much of this great content is being pushed through smart speakers that aren’t designed with sound quality in mind. With our open approach to collaboration, agnostic approach to voice services, the strength of our many innovative partners, and a sound platform designed for the whole home, we’re helping people listen more and listen better.”

The Sonos One is priced at $199 so will probably cost around 200 quid when it’s available here and globally on 24 October. Platform-agnostic smart home gadgets seem like the way forward as few people other than the most devoted Apple fanatics will feel comfortable tying themselves to a single ecosystem. Having said that it will be interesting to see what the user experience is like when you have multiple, competing smart assistants trying to sort your life out for you.