back to article Latest patent brouhaha: Sonos wheels out Doomsday device in bid to block Google Home sales.... The Register

Sonos has decided to take on Google, suing the monster tech company for allegedly infringing on its sound-sharing patents, and throwing itself into what will almost certainly be a brutal and very expensive legal battle. Sonos was once the leader for smart home speakers though in recent years the market has been swamped by the …

  1. tcmonkey
    Big Brother

    BYO Popcorn?

    I will be watching this with interest. Whilst I don't presently partake of the home gadget market the concept is vaguely appealing to me, but the cloudyness and effective monopoly that Google have on it offend me deeply. Having some options in this space that don't involve Gigaslurp would be welcome.

    1. simonlb Silver badge

      Re: BYO Popcorn?

      At least with the Google devices (along with Amazon and others) you can unregister them and pass them on to someone else to use once you no longer need or want them. Sonos seem to want to go down the route of forcing you to scrap their kit once you have finished with it, even if it is only a couple of years old.

      Personally, if it's a £30 device I could possibly accept that, but for something that costs a few hundred quid that just isn't justified so is not an option for me.

      1. LDS Silver badge
        Big Brother

        "you can unregister them and pass them on to someone else"

        Sure, why not slurp some more data from someone else, regardless of how they got the data-slurping device? I'm not defending Sonos on its device-bricking idea - because we don't need more e-waste and landfill products, yet only people who want to hurt you will pass along any product from Google & C...

      2. DML71

        Re: BYO Popcorn?

        You can pass them on. You can sell/pass them on at anytime. But you don't get a discount from sonos when you buy new hardware.

        If you choose the upgrade/discount option via Sonos your old hardware is 'bricked' x amount of days after. Sonos say this is because they don't want people buying 3/4 year old hardware thinking they are getting the newest/best and having an inferior user experience.

        1. Anonymous Coward
          Anonymous Coward

          Re: BYO Popcorn?

          I agree, I don't see the problem - it is a "trade in discount" when buying new equipment, except without the actual trade in.

          That's really my only objection to it - they should offer free shipping to a recycling center for the old devices to insure they don't end up in a landfill.

      3. Sampler

        Re: BYO Popcorn?

        How can you not unregister? My Sonos play 1's unregister themselves as soon as they lose power and you have to go through the pa-larva of re-setting up..

      4. tcmonkey

        Re: BYO Popcorn?

        I'm less interested in the speaker side of things due to having my own Hi-Fi gear that doesn't suck, but the voice response/small-display-in-nice-form-factor stuff looks handy. Lenovo do a device that costs about 100 Aussie Dollarydoos, so I bought one with the express intent of cracking the bootloader and loading something other than Google's spyware. So far I've only got as far as step 1. Free time? Wassat?

      5. Dapprman

        Re: BYO Popcorn?

        You are confusing Sonos' recent discount upgrade scheme with just selling on existing kit.

        The bricking was to stop people taking benefit of the discounts to effectively trade in their kit when in reality they were left with the originals (which was arguably seen as a mistake from Sonos').

        If you did not go for the offer and decide to pass on your kit - then no problem, new owner takes up the registration during part of the config process.

  2. gerdesj Silver badge
    Gimp

    Yes, yes , yes, yes ... no

    "Google is 1990s-era Microsoft and very few companies survived Bill Gates’ clutches with the exception of Oracle."

    I'm happily tapping this comment into a text entry field in Chromium on a laptop running Arch. Oh bugger ... Chromium!

  3. Anonymous South African Coward Silver badge

    The other main driver is an increasingly willingness by lawmakers to look at the predatory actions of tech giants, as well as a growing sense that the gathering and sale of private data needs limits.

    Errr... that ship has sailed long ago. Now it's world+dog that collects data on world+dog...

  4. James Anderson Silver badge

    Sqeezebox

    Sqeezebox release there first streaming player in 2001.

    They sold devices which did what Sonos did before Sonos was released.

    As an open source company (before the Logica buyout anyway) they were averse to patents, but there is a whole mess of prior art available for all to see in various public repositories where the original project is being kept alive by enthusiasts.

    1. Prichy

      Re: Sqeezebox

      I'm still running 4 Squeezebox units at home (OK - some are branded Logitech). Three are wireless, one is cabled. But yes, Squeezebox were doing this long before Sonos and IMHO it's still a far superior solution. It's open, flexible, supports numerous formats including online radio/podcast streams and allows you to choose the hardware to get the quality and price point you want. Your setup can be lower quality than Sonos, or higher, cheaper or more expensive - you decide what suits you. Thankfully, the one thing it doesn't provide - is microphones!

    2. scasey

      Re: Sqeezebox

      Yes! I've been using Squeezebox for over twelve years. It's a far superior solution to Sonos. Sonos still doesn't support Listen Again on BBC iPlayer in any useful way.

      I still love Squeezebox, and have ten around the house. One is running on a Raspberry Pi, with half decent USB DAC and ceiling mounted speakers.

      The Squeezebox's biggest problem was the fact that a local server is needed to get the best from it. That made it unattractive to the average person.

      But, I still mourn the day that Logitech announced that they were killing them off. Thankfully the code is all open source, and the community have maintained a fantastic system.

  5. tiggity Silver badge

    "Google certainty benefited from Sonos’ approach and the fact that Google immediately solved many of the complexities with streaming and sharing sound across multiple speakers for its Home products – issues that Sonos had spent years struggling with – could look highly suspicious to a jury."

    Or could look like Google were just far more competent than Sonos.

    It's not exactly the most awkward type of problem as I can think of various similar (easy) challenges and multiple solutions in "normal" networking scenarios.

  6. Crypto Monad

    Pot calling kettle

    "The harm produced by Google’s infringement has been profoundly compounded by Google’s business strategy to use its multi-room audio products to vacuum up invaluable consumer data from users"

    Funny how Sonos has forgotten that is changed its T&Cs a few years ago, so that anyone using their products had to agree to having their data used by Sonos.

    Sadly, it looks like this is the end of Sonos. I don't think they will survive a pounding from Google's lawyers.

  7. McBiter

    There goes another one

    Surely the American anti-trust laws should be used more to prevent a 'minnow' being stangled by a leviathian.

    Sadly SONOS seems to be an a hiding to nothing. If they win and get significant damages they could repay all their shareholders and quit or lose and watch their market being gobbled up.

    How long will it be before your home audio has not only a microphone but a camera to ensure the 'safety' of your environment. Will you know when it's on or off? Do you know what data is kept?

    Progress?

    It seems to me the barriers to innovation are increasingly high resulting in near monopolistic control, Not exactly in a consumers interest.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: There goes another one

      "Surely the American anti-trust laws should be used more to prevent a 'minnow' being stangled by a leviathian."

      Are they useful for that? Do they even work?

      If you point at the AT&T breakup (which actually was AT&T's choice, done on their own terms), I'll point you to the current state of telecoms in the US today.

    2. SImon Hobson Silver badge

      Re: There goes another one

      Will you know when it's on or off?

      Yes, I'll know when it's off. Application of a muting tool can ensure that.

  8. Detective Emil
    Mushroom

    What domesday device?

    I thought a domesday device took out everybody, including its deployer and non-combatants. I see no evidence of that in this article. Although I must admit that I applied today's all-too-frequent, annoyingly-insistent and without-apparent-effect Sonos update with more than the usual caution.

  9. Giovani Tapini Silver badge

    I may have to look up the patent myself

    As my car, made in 2012 can effectively work as a smart speaker... If I shout at it clearly enough it can play tracks from my USB stick, enter a route into the sat nav, or call people from the address book, even read email and texts if I connect it to my phone. Its certainly not substantially different in behaviour but I certainly would not have seen a car described as a smart speaker (or indeed smart at anything) at the time.

    I am fairly sure this would not be licencing SONOS tech (don't flame me if I'm not right as not researched it yet) comes from a completely different part of the world for completely different use cases, yet does the same jobs.

    I'm fairly sure that even back in the 90's you could use Dragon software to shout at your PC and it would dictate and manage basic browser and MS media centre stuff.

    Much as Google has its faults, there does seem to be a run of last straw clutching going on...

  10. DCFusor Silver badge

    Maybe what I call "the lottery mentality" - "win once and I'm set up for life" - is the problem.

    Oooh, we innovated once, and now deserve to be profitable forever (life can be long if you're a corp).

    Maybe if you make money from innovating, you have to keep doing it, just a thought. The rest of us don't get paid for life because we showed up for work once.

    Sole ownership of some idea that's now old-hat just makes things more expensive for all the customers.

    Perhaps patents need to expire a bit quicker in a world where things move considerably quicker than they did when those laws were written?

    1. Aristotles slow and dimwitted horse Silver badge

      And there in-lies the problem. Once the multi-room streaming technology nut was cracked, there is very little innovation or revenue generation that can be applied to a "smart speaker" other than tedious and pointless design changes, or by forcibly bricking what you have already paid for, under the disguise of fluffy marketing bullshit that claims to be trying to protect your "user experience".

      Personally I went for the Yamaha Musicast system, and very VERY good it is too.

  11. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Kind of surprised Google didn't just buy them out

    Like they did Nest. Failing to do so might end up costing them more in the long run...

  12. CrazyOldCatMan Silver badge

    Buy-out?

    Of course, this might just be a thinly-disguised ploy to get Google to buy Sonos out.. Their long-term prospects are not good (especially with their recent moves annoying a lot of their existing customers) and their board might want to "enhance shareholder revenue" by getting Google to buy them out.

    It would probably be cheaper and less hassle for Google to do that.

    1. Crypto Monad

      Re: Buy-out?

      That would be a risky strategy for Sonos stockholders though. Firstly, stock may plummet on the news of the Google spat - meaning that even if Google eventually buys it, they get it at discount price. Secondly, Google already has a directly competing line of products, so little incentive to buy another. Thirdly, the risk that during litigation it comes to light that Sonos is unknowingly already violating Google's massive patent collection in some way.

      Aside: that to me also seems an absurdity of patents. You do something in the only obvious way, without looking at someone else's patents or products, and you can still find yourself in violation just because somebody else wrote it down first.

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