The big picture: Sonos is suing Google in two different courts over allegations of patent infringement. While the patent litigation is the primary reason, a secondary reason may be increasingly anti-competitive relationship Sonos has with Google and Amazon. Sonos relies on both for their virtual assistants and storefronts, however, Google Home and Amazon Echo undercut Sonos speakers in price by a significant margin.
Popular smart speaker company Sonos is suing Google in two courts for allegedly stealing its speaker technology, according to The New York Times. Sonos says that Google is infringing on at least five patents related to wireless syncing of multiple speakers. The company is seeking a ban on all of Google's speakers, smartphones, and laptops in the United States along with financial restitution.
“Google has been blatantly and knowingly copying our patented technology,” CEO Patrick Spence said in a statement to the Times. “Despite our repeated and 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.”
According to Sonos, the whole issue stems from the 2013 partnership between the two companies. Google didn't make speakers at the time and the effort went towards making Sonos compatible with Google Play Music. However, things fell apart when Google released the Chromecast Audio, Pixel smartphones, and the Google Home line of smart speakers. Sonos claims all of those products use Sonos' patented technology that Google got access to during the earlier partnership.
Sonos discovered the infringing behavior using a packet sniffer to monitor the IP traffic from a Google Home. They realized that Google was using Sonos' approach for "solving a variety of technological challenges". Sonos also says Amazon violated their patents as well with their Echo speakers, however, Sonos didn't want to battle two tech giants once.
The Times notes that Sonos executives repeated warned Google that it was infringing on about 100 patents over a span of four years. However, Google appeared not to have had much of a response although it claims Sonos violated some of its patents as well. Sonos then tried a more conciliatory method, trying to draw up a model for paying licensing fees. Google responded with a model that had it paying next to nothing in licensing fees.
Sonos is also feeling the pinch of both Amazon and Google undercutting the price of Sonos' speakers. While the cheapest Sonos speaker goes for $200, both the Google Home Mini and Amazon Echo Dot go for around $50, often much cheaper during sales. Sonos executives are concerned that Amazon and Google are simply flooding the market with cheap speakers for the greater purpose of selling ads and collecting data. Meanwhile, Sonos still relies on both tech giants for access to their respective digital assistants and storefronts.