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Google-Sonos patent war drags on with new federal trial

Google seeks a declaration of non-infringement of four patents used in multiroom speaker technology.

SAN FRANCISCO (CN) — The latest skirmish in the ongoing war between Google and audio products manufacturer Sonos kicked off Monday, this time in a patent infringement suit over smart speaker technology.

The trial is the latest in a long series of legal actions the two California-based tech companies have lobbed against one another over the past decade. This time, Google sued seeking a declaratory judgment of non-infringement of four patents relating to multiroom speaker technology.

Google and Santa Barbara based-Sonos worked together several years before to help Google services function on Sonos’ brand of speakers. Sonos claims Google then stole Sonos’ smart speaker technology for use in its own brand, Google Home, as well as other gadgets.

The conflict between the two companies has raged on for several years, with each suing and countersuing. In January 2022, the U.S. International Trade Commission found Google in violation of five Sonos smart speaker technology-related patents.

If Monday's proceedings are any indication, jurors are in for 10 days of patent law and detailed explanations of the complex technology that makes it possible for smart speakers to perform in coordinated groupings that can be altered to help someone listen to music synchronously in more than one room at a time.

The trial kicked off with the testimony of Nicholas Millington, Sonos’ chief innovation officer and the tenth person hired by the then-fledgling company in 2003. He described a company — and an industry — that was very much in its early stages.

Millington told the jury that at the time, Sonos was looking to create a new kind of home audio system and anticipated streaming services — nascent technology then at best — were going to go mainstream. The company’s engineers envisioned individual controllers in each room of the home with the ability to tap the internet for music. Such a move would entail not only development in existing technology but a change in how people obtained music.

“Most of us had a big CD collection we were very proud of,” Millington said, and the idea that anyone would want to rent music was unimaginable. “There was a lot of opposition to renting music."

In the early 2000s, even e-commerce was still new and notably smaller than today, Millington noted, and Sonos’ team like many others were struggling with “start-up jitters.”

“There were times we sincerely doubted we could succeed,” he said. But the technology exploded and Millington described the various milestones that Sonos saw as it continued to develop its products. With the advent of smartphones, for example, Sonos engineers realized they could use the new phone apps to control and operate Sonos systems rather than just selling hardware.

Millington testified that in 2005, Sonos had few if any competitors but eventually more traditional audio companies began to take notice of its work. And it wasn’t long after that the big tech companies — such as Google — began to pay attention as well.

From there, the two companies began working closely together to integrate Google’s software with Sonos’ hardware, a process that seemed to work for both of them.

Until it didn’t.

The trial resumes Tuesday with Millington back on the stand.

Categories / Business, Technology, Trials

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