ITC Rules that Google Infringes Sonos Speaker and Other Device Patents

Last Thursday, the U.S. International Trade Commission (ITC) issued a confidential opinion finding that respondent Google LLC violated the Tariff Act of 1930 by importing, selling for importation, or selling certain audio players and controllers that infringe one or more claims of five patents belonging to Sonos Inc.

The simultaneously issued notice of a final determination explained that the ITC initiated the investigation in February 2020 after Sonos, a sound system company based in Santa Barbara, California, filed a complaint. Now Google will be barred from importing the infringing products, including smart speakers, certain computers and phones, and video streaming devices, and must also post a bond equivalent to the value of the infringed products.

According to The New York Times’ coverage of the decision, the ban will take effect in two months. During that time, the quasi-judicial body’s decision will be subject to presidential review. The article, written by Ryan Mac and published last Thursday, explains that the impact of the ruling “appears limited, because the import ban is likely to have little impact on newer products that use different technologies. It also does not affect Google’s main cash cow, online advertising.”

The news outlet noted that Sonos was a forerunner in home speaker technology enabling wirelessly networked equipment to stream content from smartphones. However, The New York Times said, in the last few years Google, Amazon, Apple, and Facebook entered the market, viewing smart speakers as a vector for bringing voice-based assistants to millions of homes.

The ITC suit is one of several intellectual property disputes between the parties. As previously reported, Sonos took on Google in two separate suites, one filed in January 2020 and the other in late September, while Google counter-sued between the two filings. One patent case was paused pending the outcome of the ITC case.

Sonos is represented by Orrick, Herrington & Sutcliffe LLP and Google by Quinn Emanuel Urquhart & Sullivan LLP.