Sonos' Patent Win will replace Google's Smart Speakers - for now
On Thursday, the The U.S. International Trade Commission, which regulates import laws, concluded that Alphabet-owned Google infringed audio technology patents owned by the smart speaker company Sonos, a significant influence for Sonos in the trial of David v. Goliath that lasts two years. The Commission said that Google had infringed on Sonos' five patents, and issued a "restraining order" prohibiting the introduction of certain audio technologies, controllers and components made by Google .
Unsurprisingly, Google says it does not support it: It intends to make a claim, and it has 60 days to do so before the ITC ruling takes effect. Sonos, meanwhile, has two patent infringement cases against Google still pending in federal court. "These two upcoming lawsuits are important, as the ITC has no authority to award damages," said Peter Toren, a Washington, DC - based intellectual property lawyer.
But Google clearly expected that this may be the result of the ITC review, because back in August 2022 the company submitted a series of product redesigns to ITC judge Charles Bullock, who decided the procedures suggested. No infringement of Sonos patents. Following yesterday 's ITC decision, Google shared some of the changes it's making to its smart speakers.
So how doing ITC regulation, which has the potential to block the import of certain products if Google does not comply, which affects product experience? For one, the changes that Google will make apply to Google's smart speakers and Nest Hub displays. Google has not released a complete list of affected devices, so it is unclear how or whether this affects other Google products, such as Pixel phones or Chromebooks. The updates will be released "in the coming days," according to spokesman Nicol Addison. And for now, all updates are based on software.
Google says the ability to change the size of the speaker according to group away; buyers now have to change the size of each speaker individually. And, "you will also not be able to resize your Speaker Group using your phone's physical volume button," the company says. Throwing functions on non-Google smart devices with built-in Chromecast, such as those made by Lenovo or JBL, will also be affected if the speakers are not updated to the latest firmware. And some users no longer get automatic software updates on their smart speakers; instead, they need to download and install the Device Utility app. This will "ensure your device is connected to Wi-Fi and has the latest software version," says Google.
These may seem like relatively small modifications, but they are a big part of the application of wireless multiroom smart speakers - a market that helped Sonos back when it was first launched 20 years ago - the ability to synchronize and control multiple speakers simultaneously. Some of these easy practices will be eliminated by these changes.
The ITC's management could also affect Google's future designs. And more changes could come down the line, depending on the results of the federal lawsuit. (One of those, filed in U.S. District Court in Los Angeles, has been suspended pending the finalization of the ITC decision, according to The New York Times. The other case, which was filed in the U.S. District Court in San Francisco, is pending.)