US jury says Google owes Sonos $32.5 million in smart-speaker patent case

On Friday, a San Francisco federal jury decided that Alphabet Inc’s Google must pay $32.5 million in damages for breaching one of smart-speaker maker Sonos Inc’s patents in its wireless audio devices.

The case is part of a reclining intellectual property disagreement between the former collaborators that includes other lawsuits in the U.S., Canada, France, Germany and the Netherlands.

San Francisco federal jury decided that Alphabet Inc’s Google must pay $32.5 million in damages for breaching one of smart-speaker maker Sonos Inc’s patents in its wireless audio devices.

Initially, the companies worked together to combine Mountain View, California-based streaming music service of Google into Sonos products. First, in 2020, Sonos sued Google for patent breach in Los Angeles and at the U.S. International Trade Commission, alleging the tech giant of imitating its technology during their collaboration in devices including Google Home and Chromecast Audio.

Earlier this month after cutting its revenue forecast, Santa Barbara, California-based Sonos lost nearly one-fifth of its market valuation.

According to the jury, Google infringed one of Sonos’ two patents at issue in the trial. Sonos had previously asked the court for $90 million in damages, a request Google said in a court filing that Sonos had diminished from $3 billion after U.S. District Judge William Alsup narrowed the case.

In 2022, Sonos won a limited import ban on some Google devices from the ITC, which Google has challenged.

Google has come across with its own patent lawsuits in California and at the ITC, alleging Sonos of copying the tech company’s technology into its smart speakers. Sonos has called Google’s lawsuits an “intimidation tactic” to “grind down a smaller competitor.”

“We are deeply grateful for the jury’s time and diligence in upholding the validity of our patents and recognizing the value of Sonos’s invention of zone scenes,” Eddie Lazarus, Sonos’ chief legal officer and CFO, says in a statement to a media group.

“This verdict re-affirms that Google is a serial infringer of our patent portfolio, as the International Trade Commission has already ruled with respect to five other Sonos patents. In all, we believe Google infringes more than 200 Sonos patents and today’s damages award, based on one important piece of our portfolio, demonstrates the exceptional value of our intellectual property. Our goal remains for Google to pay us a fair royalty for the Sonos inventions it has appropriated.”

Credits: Facialix

“This is a narrow dispute about some very specific features that are not commonly used,” Google spokesperson Peter Schottenfels says in a statement to The Verge. “Of the six patents Sonos originally asserted, only one was found to be infringed, and the rest were dismissed as invalid or not infringed. We have always developed technology independently and competed on the merit of our ideas. We are considering our next steps.”

According to a report from Laws360, Sonos didn’t emerge out of the case fully victorious, however, as the jury decided that Google’s Home app didn’t breach on a separate patent filed by Sonos. The judge also told jury members to “disregard a $90 million damages estimate from a Sonos expert witness, saying he had decided that some of the evidence provided was inadmissible.”

According to Law360, the decision will be remembered as an embarrassing defeat for the search engine giant, but both companies were target of bold criticism from Judge William Alsup, who has previously headed over many tech company courtroom battles. Alsup expressed anguish that this case ever went to trial in the first place and the two sides weren’t able to get on a common ground. He said it was “emblematic of the worst of patent litigation.” He also noted the technical jargon surrounding the patents at issue, at one point checking with jurors to make sure they hadn’t fallen asleep,