Update on Sonos’ misleading patent campaign

Sonos has been running a years-long, misleading campaign against helpful features in our Google Home devices and smart speaker devices on spurious patent grounds.

On Friday, a federal judge ruled firmly in favor of our products, rejecting two of Sonos’ patents, building on previous rulings that invalidated the asserted claims from another two of Sonos’ patents. The decision shows the weakness of a central plank of Sonos’ campaign. The court stated that Sonos’ patents are both invalid — meaning they never should have been granted in the first place — and unenforceable, and affirmed that we developed the technology first and independently.

The court’s decision to dismiss Sonos’ claims wholesale speaks for itself:

  • “This was not a case of an inventor leading the industry to something new,” the Court wrote. “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.”
  • “In fact, in 2014, five years before Sonos filed the applications and presented the claims, accused infringer Google LLC shared with Sonos a plan for a product that would practice what would become the claimed invention… Google then began introducing its own products that practiced the invention in 2015. Even so, Sonos waited until 2019 to pursue claims on the invention (and until 2020 to roll out the invention in its own product line).”

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 industry.

However, it’s an unfortunate reminder of how aggressive actors are increasingly abusing the patent system, wasting time and resources. “It is wrong that our patent system was used in this way,” the Court wrote. “With its constitutional underpinnings, this system is intended to promote and protect innovation. Here, by contrast, it was used to punish an innovator and to enrich a pretender by delay and sleight of hand. It has taken a full trial to learn this sad fact, but, at long last, a measure of justice is done.”

As we have long argued, the patent system is in need of reform to protect inventors while promoting innovation. For example, the United States Patent and Trademark Office needs more funding so that it can keep up with advancing technology, and dedicate the time that is needed to examine increasingly complex patents. The Patent Office should also require those applying for a patent to better explain their patent document and claims. Patent examination is a two-way street, and patent applicants need to do their part as well.

With reforms like these, we can avoid costly litigation that slows down innovation, raises litigation costs, wastes the courts’ time and resources, and, most importantly, harms consumers.

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