A California federal judge threw out a $32.5 million verdict that had gone in favor of Sonos, a wireless audio company that had sued Google over what it argued was a violation of patents related to music sharing in the home.
Although Sonos had won several court cases against Google, including a limited import ban on select Google devices, all that has been turned on its head after U.S. District Judge William Alsup ruled that two key patents provided by Sonos were unenforceable and invalid.
The company claimed the patents for multi-room audio technology were filed in 2006 as a provisional application ahead of Google, resulting in the Big Tech company removing some features from its Google Home products, including its smart speaker line up. But Judge Alsup found the official applications and claims for examination weren’t filed until 2019.
“By the time these patents were issued in 2019 and 2020, the industry had already marched on and put the claimed invention into practice,” Judge Alsup said.
Judge Alsup brought the gavel down on Sonos, tossing out any victories the company had scored during this legal dispute. He said using the patent system this way is “wrong” and warned Sonos not to challenge other tech companies with similar infringement claims.
“This was not a case of an inventor leading the industry to something new,” wrote Alsup in his final decision. “This was a case of the industry leading with something new and, only then, an inventor coming out of the woodwork to say that he had come up with the idea first – wringing fresh claims to read on a competitor’s products from an ancient application.”
Google says that since both Sono’s patents were found invalid, they should never have been issued to begin with and are therefore unenforceable.
“This decision is good news for our users who will once again be able to seamlessly group and integrate Google smart speakers, and for continued innovation of new features across the country,” Halimah DeLaine Prado, general counsel at Google, posted in a blog today. “As we have long argued, the patent system is in need of reform to protect inventors while promoting innovation.”
Sonos says it’s unwilling to back down and is prepping an appeal.
“Judge Alsup’s ruling invalidating the jury’s verdict is wrong on both the facts and laws, and Sonos will appeal. The same is true of earlier rulings narrowing our case,” said a spokesperson for Sonos in a statement to Cord Cutters News. “While an unfortunate result, it does not change the fact that Google is a serial infringer of our patent portfolio, as the International Trade Commission has already ruled with respect to five other patents. In the end, we expect this to be a temporary setback in our efforts to hold Google financially accountable for misappropriating Sono’s patented inventions.”