back to article Google: We disagree with Sonos patent ruling so much, we've changed our code to avoid infringement

America's International Trade Commission has said Google infringed five of Sonos’s patents – and has banned Google from importing into the US products that rip off Sonos’ home speaker intellectual property. Here's the scary sounding ruling from the ITC’s Secretary Lisa Barton this week: Notice is hereby given that the U.S. …

  1. Kevin McMurtrie Silver badge

    Patent madness

    I can sync the driver and passenger temperature settings in my car to one knob and it doesn't violate the Sonos patent. If Google had replaced the "volume" control with a "final stage gain" would it be a new system?

    1. Barrie Shepherd

      Re: Patent madness

      ..or what about auditoriums with their multi speaker multi amplifier digital delayed sound systems. US Patent systems is broken.

    2. iron Silver badge

      Re: Patent madness

      Wow are the driver and passenger temperatures in different rooms and not connected by wires?

      No, so its not the same bloody thing you moron.

      This is not a patent troll who has patented something obvious BUT ON A PHONE!!!!!!

      This is a company who developed a technique of syncing speaker volumes across a wireless network (no your 70's quadraphonic HiFi doesn't do that either) and deserve to get paid for that invention.

      Why has Google not been forced to pay royalties for several years of infringing products? Why are they being allowed to get away with "soz won't do it again, honest" in this case?

      1. Unbelievable!

        re: soz won't do it again, honest

        "Why are they being allowed to get away with "soz won't do it again, honest" in this case?"

        I could not agree with you more @IRON.

        the Big Tech corps have no intention of sticking to rules or the 'spirit of the rules'. they constantly push and overstep, at users expense (it'll come back to the end user financially), knowing they just get a slap on the wrist.

        The lawyers are the 2nd in line for the huge income. We should start setting about those.

        And those making laws wholly elite that a degree is required to understand and practice law.


        1. Anonymous Coward
          Anonymous Coward

          Re: re: soz won't do it again, honest

          Somewhat agree in principle but downvoted for calling out "moron."

      2. John Savard

        Re: Patent madness

        I don't understand what they're supposed to have invented that wasn't obvious. Marconi invented radio. Edwin Armstrong invented the superheterodyne. Those were inventions that were real and not obvious.

        Remote control has been used for ages for model airplanes, for example. So remotely controlling the volume of a speaker, as soon as it becomes useful to do so, is merely an obvious improvement in the art, and those patents should never have been granted.

        1. Androgynous Cow Herd

          Re: Patent madness

          Tesla invented Radio

          "Marconi is a good fellow. Let him continue. He is using seventeen of my patents."

      3. T. F. M. Reader

        Re: Patent madness

        "syncing speaker volumes across a wireless network (no your 70's quadraphonic HiFi doesn't do that either)"

        In the 70ies probably not, but I certainly recall ads for HiFi systems with multiple wireless speakers that were touted as incredible inventions ("Look, Ma, no wires!") in mid-90ies (in the US). It stands to reason volume could be adjusted, too.

        Ironically, the bit I remember most distinctly was that advertising of the day made a big fuss of the "wireless" part but did not mention the need of power cords for each speaker. The invention was not very successful, IIRC.

        The above does not, by itself, invalidate Sonos's patents. I was too lazy to look the claims up, so I can't possibly comment.

      4. skwdenyer

        Re: Patent madness

        With respect, you misunderstand patents. The fact that Sonos have in fact created a mechanism for altering volumes on multiple devices in multiple rooms from a single app/controller is wholly immaterial. The patent expresses only to the *idea* of this being done.

        For something as obvious as this, the only surprise is (a) nobody had patented it before, (b) there was no prior art, and (c) it wasn't declared "obvious" and therefore unpatentable.

        I absolutely support inventors being paid for inventive steps, but am pretty sure there were commercial (rather than consumer) systems around long before Sonos that would do what is being described here.

        1. Charlie Clark Silver badge

          Re: Patent madness

          In most jurisdictions, ideas are not patentable, only specific implementations. For example, chemical are not patentable but the methods of making them arc. A well-known example of different implementations for the same thing is the "widget™" that Guiness used in cans to create a "draught pour" experience. It was soon imitated by "gadgets" that did the same thing slightly differently.

          Then there is the US which lets things like "rounded corners" be patented…

      5. sabroni Silver badge

        Re: This is a company who developed a technique of syncing speaker volumes across a wireless network

        Wow. I wonder how it works.

        Maybe by sending the same volume value to each speaker?

        Quick, smack a patent on that, no one else could possibly work that out!!!

        1. AIBailey

          Re: This is a company who developed a technique of syncing speaker volumes across a wireless network

          ...and this is a perfect demonstration of just how stupid the patent system is, especially in the US.*

          Remember when patents used to be to protect ideas that were genuinely interesting, innovative or simply completely unlike anything that had gone before.

          I don't have any particular opinion on either Sonos or Google in this instance, but the fact that someone can patent changing volumes across multiple devices is nonsense.

          * - Other countries may have equally daft patent systems, I genuinely don't know.

          1. imanidiot Silver badge

            Re: This is a company who developed a technique of syncing speaker volumes across a wireless network

            "Remember when patents used to be to protect ideas that were genuinely interesting, innovative or simply completely unlike anything that had gone before"

            Start looking into old patents and you'll find that stupid, obvious and generic ideas are of all times. So your statement isn't necessarily true

  2. Andrew Jones 2

    "Those patents describe methods to manage the volume of multiple audio players on a network from a controller-like hub, pairing players, and so on."

    It's just as well there is no sort of prior art isn't it...

    I mean imagine if I'd been able to pair players and control the volume of the group as a whole - before Sonos was even founded....

    Oh wait, that's exactly what the Slim Devices (later Logitech) Media Server allows me to do. TWENTY YEARS ago. And while Logitech no longer make the hardware, the server is still in development and it's open source on GitHub.

    And that - is why the USPTO is utterly broken.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Why blame the USPTO?

      Compared to the time available to the USPTO examiner, Google will have used orders of magnitude more resources in attempting to have the patents declared invalid and they failed. So actually this is a robust validation of the USPTO decision.

      Whether you agree with the law and case law of patentability in the US is a different matter but this is outside the hands of the USPTO.

      1. Doctor Syntax Silver badge

        Re: Why blame the USPTO?

        Fees should be set at a level sufficient to avoid damage to pay for proper patent examination. Then the costs involved in disputing failed patents should fall on the USPTO.

    2. martinusher Silver badge

      I use Squeezeboxes and the open source server and player software (running on a Pi) to manage my streaming. Well designed hardware and code. More modern units tend to focus on adding as much proprietary BS as possible.

      Nothing sums up the current state of US consumer technology than two companies fighting over a trivial, obvious and definitely prior art 'patent' on their mass produced in China products.

      Incidentally, (AFAIK) Logitech's audio products are the only ones of their type that command a much higher price on the used market than they cost new. For some reason they've ignored the demand, focusing on products that trap the user (their 'UE' variant) that consumers don't want or need. Its almost as if there's some kind of secret protocol with the RIAA that says that "We will not sue the **** out of you if you degrade your product so we can monitor potential piracy and control content".

    3. AndrueC Silver badge

      Yup, another satisfied LMS user here. For those who might be interested This is kind of thing we can do..although I never have.

      I occasionally look for an alternative to LMS but I've not found it yet.

      My main unit is a Logitech Touch but I also have an SB3 in my study for when I'm working.

      I used to have a Slimdevices SB 2 but I can't remember what happened to it.

    4. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      This actually has nothing to do with USPTO directly, The International Trade Commission was set up to protect American companies from unfair competition (or if you are a cynic to make life difficult for foreign companies trying to sell to the US market giving advantage to local producers).

      The ITC cannot challenge the validity of a patent, only that a patent (no matter how ridiculous) has been violated.

      The SONOS patents are valid by the current USPTO standards ( I got there first with some gobbeldy gook describing the bleeding obvious).

  3. wub

    Real Class

    Thanks, Google, for showing the world how to react to a patent infringement situation. Naturally the first response should be to remove the features that infringed, which may have been significant for your clients when they chose to buy your product. Cripple the device. Don't look some way to reach an agreement to license the features from the folks who actually developed them. I think I may have read that attempted negotiations did not work out. Oh sorry, they wanted too much money? In the most American of responses to competition, you could have just bought the company. Why not? It isn't like you can't afford to buy them. Just kill any of their products you didn't want in the first place, you're good at killing projects.

    Real class.

    1. Skiron

      Re: Real Class

      Or do what Microsoft did (or rather didn't) - tell the Linux kernel crew that they have MS's intellectual code in the kernel but wouldn't tell them what it was so they could change it!

      1. Tuomo Stauffer

        Re: Real Class

        At that time developing MS systems for huge customers and also Linux to the same customers - it was strange and funny - those customers were able to tell even MS to take a hike, LOL! Yes, MS tried to take Linux developers to the court but didn't want to show / to tell what they did wrong - so no case! Weird times in computer world - greed. These patents based on obvious technological development should never be granted - can we patent the use of an oven to bake a cake?

    2. Flocke Kroes Silver badge

      Re: Real Class

      By all means hate Google as much as you like but please do not focus that hatred on something actually good that Google did. Imagine what they could have done: buy Sonos and inflict the bad patents on everyone. License the patents on the condition that Sonos inflicts the bad patent on everyone else (avoids abuse of monopoly accusations). If you are too lazy to work out that bad patents have been the norm for decades please take a look at West Texas. You will find it is world famous as the number one place to file patent litigation for maximum damage when you know you have no cause for complaint

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: Real Class

        Yes, great reaction, don't pay a small fee to the inventor of something you have been profiting from, just remove it and give your customers a worse experience. Great example of an arrogant company in a position to care less about their clients. Using your dominant position in one market to subsidise unfair competition in another seems par for the course in america this century.

        1. druck Silver badge

          Re: Real Class

          Inventor of what? Controlling the volume of multiple speakers is obvious, has no inventive step and prior art exists, so in any sensible part of the world is not patentable.

          1. Anonymous Coward
            Anonymous Coward

            Re: Real Class

            Quite. And you shouldn't be able to patent an idea for a feature ("wouldn't it be a cool if users can control the volume of their speakers simultaneously?"), only a non-obvious and novel way of implementing it.

        2. John Brown (no body) Silver badge

          Re: Real Class

          Now, of course, we have users who bought the kit, possibly for exactly that convenience feature, having it taken away from them without their consent. New customers can now more easily choose between Google and Sonos (and probably others), but what about those one with the infringing stuff that people might still yet buy, only to find they MUST use the app to do the set-up and suddenly a feature they just paid for is no longer there. There will be boxed devices still in the sales chain with the feature advertised. I wonder if existing devices can have updates disabled and keep the "infringing" functions?

          Existing user at least should be left alone and Google forced to pay for licences/royalties on those device or pay back a portion of the sales price to the owners.

          1. John Savard

            Re: Real Class

            Actually, the existing users of this Google gear should be able to Sonos into the ground, since it's their fault for enforcing an utterly invalid patent. Not Google's. Of course Sonos shouldn't be able to get one cent from this.

            1. Falmari Silver badge

              Re: Real Class

              @John Savard The fault is Google’s. First, they partner with Sonos and copy Sonos’s patented IP. Then rather than get the patents overturned they produce their own speakers knowing they infringe those patents.

              Finally, when those patents are upheld rather than pay royalties they are going to cripple or remove features that infringe those patents. Both on new speakers and speakers they have already sold. Depriving existing owners of the features they paid for.

              Having read those patents when one of the earlier articles came out, I agree those patents should not have been granted. But they have and Google knew this when they copied the IP and produced their speakers. When Google lost rather than pay royalties they are going to screw over owners of their speakers.

              This situation is of Google’s making and IMHO they should be made to offer a full refund to existing owners of their speakers.

            2. InsaneGeek

              Re: Real Class

              Let's remember, this did spawn from Google having a meeting with Sonos; getting unreleased IP from them and then shortly there after deciding to drop Sonos and release their own product... which just so happened to have the same characteristics of the insider information from Sonos.

              Stupid patent or not lets admit Google needs to get truly bent over for that type of action against a company minuscule to itself. That is way more morally repugnant that any patent.

        3. Edward Ashford

          Re: Real Class

          It's pretty normal in the automotive and aerospace worlds to review existing patents for something you are designing, and ensure your design doesn't infringe and is in iteslf patentable. I expect Google went through the same process, and the surprise (for them) is they were found to be infringing.

          The sensible thing to do at this point is either fix the design or license the product, and that's a commercial one not an engineering one.

      2. gerryg

        Re: Real Class

        You might recall Google bought Motorola to gain access to specific mobile IP. They sold Motorola but pooled the IP (put them in OIN?) contributing to the commons

        So there are two questions really

        (a) why do you think if they bought Sonos they would behave differently?

        (b) why do you think they didn't buy Sonos?

        1. Tom 7

          Re: Real Class

          Because Sonos investors would have benefited financially for no reason at all?

  4. lglethal Silver badge

    "We will seek further review and continue to defend ourselves against Sonos’ frivolous claims about our partnership and intellectual property,” a Google spokesperson told us"

    I have to say that if the ITC has declared that you clearly broke the patents in question to the point where you have to redesign your product, removing functionality in order to no longer utilise the products of those patents, then you can no longer declare them to be a "frivolous claim"...

    1. Pascal Monett Silver badge

      Absolutely right.

      That should be filed under contempt of court and fined accordingly.

      1. Charlie Clark Silver badge

        Contempt of which particular court? Also, you might want to look at the history of ITC decisions…

    2. gnasher729 Silver badge

      I needed a lawyer once (for advice before acting - that’s the most effective use of a lawyer), and he told me “I’ve won cases that I should have lost, and I’ve lost cases that I should have won; once you’re in court anything can happen”.

      To him it would have been entirely reasonable to call the patent case “frivolous” and at the same time take actions to minimise the possible damage. And one billion dollar company I worked for was sued for patent infringement, found a workaround requiring a minimal change, implemented it in all their software, then proudly showed their workaround to judge and jury, and reduced the amount of damages massively because that workaround was so simple that the patent holder couldn’t really claim they had suffered lots of damages.

  5. Forget It

    Why didn't Google

    just buy Sonos?

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Why didn't Google

      They want them to fail / be failing and buy the ip on the cheap.

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: Why didn't Google

        .. aaaand we're back to the Microsoft playbook.

        Amazing how similar these companies are when it comes to ethics, isn't it?

        1. Anonymous Coward
          Anonymous Coward

          Re: Why didn't Google

          @"Amazing how similar these companies are when it comes to ethics, isn't it?" no, not really these are normal US business methods.

          If you have lots of cash then you can steal/copy what you like, profiting off other inventors work whilst waiting to see if anyone can afford to take you on when you have the funds to bankrupt any legal opposition.

          Outside the US this sort of behaviour used to result in being unable to sell any contentious products until their legality was determined and was IMHO the very reason so many big names started in the US where they use only the golden rule (he who has the gold makes the rules).

          It would be better for everyone if the patent system was shut down until it was actually fair to big,small and non-US inventors equally via removing all the lawyers and cost from the equation and making the patent office sort out their own failures in determing novelty.

          Personally I would also stop patents being owned by companies since people rather than companies create innovation but since US big business is relient upon it for world domination then that isn't going to happen

          1. John Brown (no body) Silver badge

            Re: Why didn't Google

            "Personally I would also stop patents being owned by companies since people rather than companies create innovation but since US big business is relient upon it for world domination then that isn't going to happen"

            Until the patent owner leaves to go work for another company. That puts the big, rich companies into a position of bidding for patents by trying to lure the patent owner to co0me work for them. No small business could compete with the likes of Apple/Amazon/MS/Google/Tata/Wipro/Huawei,/AliBaba/10Cent etc.

        2. a pressbutton

          Re: Why didn't Google

          This is a feature, not a bug

          Corps - esp. public ones - are there to max their value for shareholders.

          If the management of a corp does something like

          -not filing patents where they obvsly could be


          -not taking the least cost approach to infringement

          they will be sued by the owners.

          welcome to capitalism.

          1. John Brown (no body) Silver badge

            Re: Why didn't Google

            "-not taking the least cost approach to infringement"

            If a company is infringing laws, then the shareholders should be suing them anyway for bringing the company into disrepute and especially over any and all fines levied for same. A company infringing laws or patents must be punished and fined in such a way that any profits generated by said action are at least nullified such that being caught is more costly than taking the risk. Too many large companies see the fines for breaking the law as a business cost because the fine is often less than the profits made.

            1. a pressbutton

              Re: Why didn't Google

              "Too many large companies see the fines for breaking the law as a business cost because the fine is often less than the profits made."


              I put it to you that legal systems which have been 'owned' by large corps tend to specify fixed amounts of monetary damage.

              Other systems have limits based on % of worldwide turnover, or whatever the jury says.

              TBF the US seems to be a weird mix of both.

            2. Mike@queue-fair

              Re: Why didn't Google

              If only it worked like that.

      2. Aitor 1

        Re: Why didn't Google

        Look at the patents. They patented obvious stuff.

  6. Richard Boyce

    Legal costs

    Does the loser pay the victor's legal costs in this case?


    Is Snapcast in the firing line?

    IIRC you can add Snapclients to "groups" and control volume of group (with all clients sliding on relative volume scale) on your Snapcast app on your phone (aka "control hub").

    Sounds somewhat similar....(I did have to build client and server applications from source myself for my Linux PCs but could have used Kodi addons if I hadnt put the MPD on a non LibreELEC server)

  8. heyrick Silver badge

    Wait, what?

    "Customers also won’t be able to ask Google’s smart assistant to automatically turn the volume up and down."

    Isn't that just basic functionality, like the sort of things one would expect a supposedly smart assistant to be able to do...?

  9. Version 1.0 Silver badge

    Slim Devices was created by my heros

    I'm writing this with my Slim Devices SLIMP3 player (I brought it in 2001) running. A SqueezeBox Boom is in the back room and I can hear that too, but the nice feature is that each has its own volume control so I'm playing Fathers Shout ... I hear the Floyd playing this in a concert about 50 years ago now ...

    The whole idea of sound boxes was originally all open source and then replaced with patented versions, with each new device junked and replaced with new versions year after year ... whatever is working this year will be replaced and you'll have to buy a new one in a few years time. My SLIMP3 is still running great!

  10. normal1

    Makes me wonder

    Was this the reason for the death of the "Google Music" app?

    1. Dinanziame Silver badge

      Re: Makes me wonder

      Probably not, they just didn't want to have to maintain two different repositories of Music (Google Play Music and YouTube Music), probably with separate copyright deals, etc.

  11. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Perhaps there should be criminal penalties for patent examiners who approve obvious patents like this. A master volume control patent? Yeah, that should have expired over a century ago, and is clearly obvious now. The patent examiner who approved it is clearly guilty of dereliction of duty.

    I've said for years that there needs to be a very low cap on the number of patents issued every year, because the number of actually new things invented every year is in reality very low. 1000 is probably too high a number, 100 might be close to right. The vast majority of patents are "we did a thing that's already been done very slightly differently". Those do not deserve a patent, and both the people asking for the patent and any patent examiner granting them need a smack in the head.

  12. Mike@queue-fair

    Whilst every country in the world has different patent laws, Our understanding is, that in America, damages are trebled too!!!!!!

  13. anonymous boring coward Silver badge

    I’ll never buy an overpriced Sonus product. They just copied Slim Devices anyway.

    How Google failed to prove prior art, is incredible!

  14. Peter 26

    Group Volume Change has been broken for the last couple of months, coincidence?

    I've been frustratingly having to manually change the volume for all my speakers for the last couple of months. Now I'm wondering if it's down to this case...

  15. hoola Silver badge


    Sonos are not exactly a model of ethical practices.

    I recall that not that long ago they bricked a load of their products for no good reason other than they could.

    Most of these outfits all come from the same background, funky software, mediocre hardware, patent anything and engage armies of lawyers.

    There used to be a time when patents actually meant something and were used to protect genuine innovation.

    1. Cederic Silver badge

      Re: Sonos.....

      Yeah, Sonos were already on my 'do not buy' list - along with Sony for their rootkit fiasco, Ring for their privacy invasion and anything Google buys as it's doomed to expire.

      1. Robert Grant

        Re: Sonos.....

        > anything Google buys as it's doomed to expire

        Exactly! Remember Android? And Google Maps?

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