Trade court rules that Google infringed on Sonos' patents

Daniel Sims

Posts: 396   +17
Staff
What just happened? A US trade court has ruled in favor of Sonos in its ongoing legal battle against Google for allegedly infringing on its speaker technology patents. Google already responded with software updates to get around the IP claim, which many of its customers aren’t taking well.

In 60 days, Google will be banned from importing into the United States any products falling under the International Trade Commission’s ruling that it infringed on Sonos' patents. The judgment is under presidential review during those 60 days.

According to The New York Times, this will affect Google Home speakers, Pixel phones, Chromecasts, and some computers.

Sonos was in the business of connected smart speakers before Google, but in 2013 the two companies entered a partnership to make Sonos speakers compatible with Google Play Music. When Google later released Google Home, the Pixel phones, and the Chromecast, Sonos claimed Google had used information gained during their product partnership and sued the company in January 2020.

This week's final ruling upholds a preliminary verdict from August 2020 in Sonos' favor.

Shortly afterward, Google revealed software updates to its smart speakers because of the ruling. Now, users will have to adjust the volume of each speaker individually and can no longer use their phone’s physical volume button to do so. The comment section of that announcement is full of angry customers, some asking for refunds.

Masthead credit: Ajay Suresh

Permalink to story.

 

brucek

Posts: 1,103   +1,618
IP lawyers in each side may well bill in the tens of millions each before it's over, while consumers lose some convenient features that required neither significant development cost nor creativity.

Next up may be the class action lawyers, who could very well extract some millions more in fees while the affected consumers end up with $5 coupons.

I like the core idea behind these protections, just seems like the implementation needs more refinement so the actual real world consequences match the original intent.
 

Irata

Posts: 2,036   +3,456
While I welcome the ruling, we all know how this will end. As usual, crime will pay, sadly.
 

umbala

Posts: 603   +1,007
Some of these rulings are just ridiculous. You can come up with "technology" to change the volume of multiple speakers at the same time and you can patent it so no one else can use it? Seriously? This reminds me of the ruling in Apple's favor against Saumsung some years ago. That case was about rounded edges of phones and tablets.
 

umbala

Posts: 603   +1,007
Please do share how crime will help me adjust all my speakers' volume as a group. Serious question.
I'm guessing that was just a Google hater. Some people just hate certain companies once they become too successful. I still remember all the undeserved hatred towards Microsoft and Bill Gates in the early 90's.
 

adamada72

Posts: 26   +21
I'm guessing that was just a Google hater. Some people just hate certain companies once they become too successful. I still remember all the undeserved hatred towards Microsoft and Bill Gates in the early 90's.

Undeserved hatred? Microsoft held the world back by 10-15 years in tech progress and got rich doing it. It was clearly deserved! In fact they should have been broken up with Apple left to go out of business. And now we should break up Apple and Google... but as before we will not and progress is held back. Yay for no real choice or competition?
 

umbala

Posts: 603   +1,007
Undeserved hatred? Microsoft held the world back by 10-15 years in tech progress and got rich doing it. It was clearly deserved! In fact they should have been broken up with Apple left to go out of business. And now we should break up Apple and Google... but as before we will not and progress is held back. Yay for no real choice or competition?
Microsoft held the world back 10-15 years?! Dang, news to me. Maybe try linking some credible references next time? Random opinions aren't facts. It's cute how you have a list of which companies you think should be broken up, because...well, you know there's no competition and all. Which sector of the market lacks competition exactly?
 

amghwk

Posts: 1,175   +1,096
Yeah, so what? Even if Google is convicted, what it needs to pay is a pittance, compared to it's earnings.
 

Irata

Posts: 2,036   +3,456
Please do share how crime will help me adjust all my speakers' volume as a group. Serious question.
It‘s not about you, it‘s about the one perpetrating the crime. If they are sufficiently big and connected, they‘ll get away with a slap in the wrist.

It‘s a bit like if the punishment for car theft were having to pay less than what it would have cost to lease it.

In your case, you could have bought speakers from the company whose IP was stolen.
 

mbk34

Posts: 289   +194
It‘s not about you, it‘s about the one perpetrating the crime.
It seems fairly obvious that multiple speakers should be operated by a single volume control. The crime here seems to be being allowed to patent the bleeding obvious. You'd think a judge with half a mind would be able to throw such a case out and save everyone money.
 

Neatfeatguy

Posts: 787   +1,373
While I welcome the ruling, we all know how this will end. As usual, crime will pay, sadly.
Please do share how crime will help me adjust all my speakers' volume as a group. Serious question.

You do understand that that Irata was commenting on how Google will come out on top of all of this making money after doing something illegal, right?

Regardless of the ruling (which at the moment looks like it'll favor Sonos) and any fines that may be implemented on Google, the fine will not come close to matching what Google profited off the stolen IP.

So, Google used IP without permission. Google sold many items utilizing stolen IP. Google made a crap ton of money over the years. According to this article, Google Home was making use of the stolen IP and Google Home released just before 2017. We'll say from 2017 to when the lawsuit appears to have been filed in Jan 2020....that's 3 full years of selling Google Home, the Pixel phones, and the Chromecast where Google made money.

The fines that Google will be given, I guarantee they won't come close to the money they made during that time.

Henceforth, "As usual, crime will pay, sadly." And how your speaker volume adjustment will benefit from said crime that Google committed, it won't. The consumer is SOL and they suffer, while Google reaps the benefits and continues to do business.
 

brucek

Posts: 1,103   +1,618
IP law needs to go, it's just a monopoly granted by the state, very socialist.
IP law is a good thing when the protection provided is proportional to the effort expended. No one is going to spend hundreds of millions of dollars to make a miracle drug or an Avengers movie or a AAA game if there is not even any legal basis to earn that money back.

The problem is when the same high-value protection is provided in exchange for a low-value investment. When a patent troll can hold up an entire industry with just a few hours of doodling and a stamp, people rightly get pissed.

I have not seen the exact details of this patent or case, but I do know that I have used audio systems where a single volume dial controlled multiple sets of speakers since at least the 70s. I am not anti-Sonos and I'm for the system supporting their investments up to some reasonable level of return. But by the time the world has rewarded them with say 100x their cost to "develop" multi-speaker volume control, it's time to say the world is allowed to listen to music in peace without further extortion.
 

Mr Majestyk

Posts: 1,136   +1,034
Everyone, but the USA it appears, knows the US patent system is a farce. A patent should not be awarded for a concept that is obvious to the average layman. Patents are hugely important to protect a company that may have invested huge amounts of time, money and resources to developing a technology, but what we are seeing over the last 10-15 years are lawsuits based on frivolous patents that had no right to be even considered let alone awarded.

I'll bet if we dig a little bit further you'll find Sonos did not even come up with the concept in the first place.
 

eforce

Posts: 883   +1,264
IP law is a good thing when the protection provided is proportional to the effort expended. No one is going to spend hundreds of millions of dollars to make a miracle drug or an Avengers movie or a AAA game if there is not even any legal basis to earn that money back.

The problem is when the same high-value protection is provided in exchange for a low-value investment. When a patent troll can hold up an entire industry with just a few hours of doodling and a stamp, people rightly get pissed.

I have not seen the exact details of this patent or case, but I do know that I have used audio systems where a single volume dial controlled multiple sets of speakers since at least the 70s. I am not anti-Sonos and I'm for the system supporting their investments up to some reasonable level of return. But by the time the world has rewarded them with say 100x their cost to "develop" multi-speaker volume control, it's time to say the world is allowed to listen to music in peace without further extortion.
The problem is that any such laws will always be expanded by lobbyists, it's either all or nothing.
 

Irata

Posts: 2,036   +3,456
You do understand that that Irata was commenting on how Google will come out on top of all of this making money after doing something illegal, right?

Regardless of the ruling (which at the moment looks like it'll favor Sonos) and any fines that may be implemented on Google, the fine will not come close to matching what Google profited off the stolen IP.

So, Google used IP without permission. Google sold many items utilizing stolen IP. Google made a crap ton of money over the years. According to this article, Google Home was making use of the stolen IP and Google Home released just before 2017. We'll say from 2017 to when the lawsuit appears to have been filed in Jan 2020....that's 3 full years of selling Google Home, the Pixel phones, and the Chromecast where Google made money.

The fines that Google will be given, I guarantee they won't come close to the money they made during that time.

Henceforth, "As usual, crime will pay, sadly." And how your speaker volume adjustment will benefit from said crime that Google committed, it won't. The consumer is SOL and they suffer, while Google reaps the benefits and continues to do business.
Thank you.

While I agree that there are laws whose validity can and should be discussed, they are still valid laws. And anyone breaking them should not be rewarded for doing so, which particularly in the case of large corporations is often the case.
 

Shirley Dulcey

Posts: 31   +26

Microsoft held the world back 10-15 years?! Dang, news to me. Maybe try linking some credible references next time? Random opinions aren't facts. It's cute how you have a list of which companies you think should be broken up, because...well, you know there's no competition and all. Which sector of the market lacks competition exactly?

Netscape was clearly damaged by Microsoft's bundling of Internet Explorer with Windows and IIS with Windows Server. IBM and Digital Research were damaged by Microsoft's deals that required Windows to be bundled with all of a manufacturer's computers to get the best price on it; that meant that computers supplied with an alternative OS had to pay for Windows anyway, making such systems more expensive than they otherwise would be. And NOT taking the bundling deal wasn't a viable option because of the dominant market position of Windows; it meant that a company's Windows systems would be more costly than ones from their competitors.

But the biggest damage is invisible, because it isn't in the form of companies that were obviously damaged. It's in the form of products that weren't developed because they were seen as flying too close to Microsoft and therefore likely to be plowed under the same way Netscape was. It's about companies that never formed because they couldn't get capital, again because their ideas were seen as ripe for destruction by Microsoft.
 

adamada72

Posts: 26   +21
Microsoft held the world back 10-15 years?! Dang, news to me. Maybe try linking some credible references next time? Random opinions aren't facts. It's cute how you have a list of which companies you think should be broken up, because...well, you know there's no competition and all. Which sector of the market lacks competition exactly?
Umbala, no offense but please do your own homework and not ask me to do it for you. Sorry but you probably don't know the history but I bet you would find it interesting. Shirley Dulcey's post above is a wonderful place to start your journey :).

I was going to post about how MSFT was stuck shoveling a CLI with a clunky GUI on top of their OS. Add in insane drivers, IRQ settings and scripts just to run a program. Want to run a CD-Rom game, time to setup the boot sequence to get that running. It was beyond horrible next to... well everything! Even my old C-64 could run a better OS with GEOS GUI and that had hardware from the early 80's that was ancient. Why do you think Windows 95 was so amazing, it was kind of the first OS that wasn't bad that MSFT made. I will give a pass to DOS, it was ok but it shouldn't have been around after 1985. Why was it around for 10 years passed its expiration date? Shirley Dulcey nailed it, they didn't need to do better. Hence my original point, MSFT held the world back.
 

Raunchy

Posts: 46   +12
While I welcome the ruling, we all know how this will end. As usual, crime will pay, sadly.

You welcome developers having their work and livelihood stolen through the use of the patent office? Because that's exactly what happened here, albeit to a highly unsympathetic victim: Google.

Software patents were supposed to be (and SHOULD BE) ILLEGAL. Software is protected by copyright, period. But the software itself is algorithms. Math. And patenting math is supposed to be prohibited, not to mention OBVIOUS things like changing the volume of multiple speakers with one control... which has been done for what, a century or so?
 

Raunchy

Posts: 46   +12
I do know that I have used audio systems where a single volume dial controlled multiple sets of speakers since at least the 70s

Yes, this is not "technology" that anyone "stole." It's well-understood behavior that has been represented in similar systems for generations. Shìt like this illustrates how corrupt our patent system has become. Software patents should have been swiftly abolished by legislative action, since they weren't supposed to be allowed in the first place.

The U.S. patent system has become a tool for the very thing it's supposed to prevent: the theft of people's work.