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Sonos, Squeezed by the Tech Giants, Sues Google

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SANTA BARBARA, Calif. — In 2013, Sonos scored a coup when Google agreed to design its music service to work easily with Sonos’s home speakers. For the project, Sonos handed over the effective blueprints to its speakers.It felt like a harmless move, Sonos executives said. Google was an internet company and didn’t make speakers. The executives now say they were naïve.On Tuesday, Sonos sued Google in two federal court systems, seeking financial damages and a ban on the sale of Google’s speakers, smartphones and laptops in the United States. Sonos accused Google of infringing on five of its patents, including technology that lets wireless speakers connect and synchronize with one another.Sonos’s complaints go beyond patents and Google. Its legal action is the culmination of years of growing dependence on both Google and Amazon, which then used their leverage to squeeze the smaller company, Sonos executives said. Sonos advertises its speakers on Google and sells them on Amazon. It built their music services and talking virtual assistants directly into its products. Sonos workers correspond via Gmail, and run the business off Amazon’s cloud-computing service. Then Google and Amazon came out with their own speakers, undercutting Sonos’s prices and, according to Sonos executives, stealing its technology. Google and Amazon each now sell as many speakers in a few months as Sonos sells in one year.Like many companies under the thumb of Big Tech, Sonos groused privately for years. But over the past several months, Patrick Spence, Sonos’s chief executive, decided he couldn’t take it anymore. Image“We’re left with no choice but to litigate,” said Patrick Spence, the Sonos chief executive.Credit…Adam Amengual for The New York Times“Google has been blatantly and knowingly copying our patented technology,” Mr. Spence said in a statement. “Despite our repeated and extensive efforts over the last few years, Google has not shown any willingness to work with us on a mutually beneficial solution. We’re left with no choice but to litigate.”Sonos executives said they had decided to sue only Google because they couldn’t risk battling two tech giants in court at once. Yet Mr. Spence and congressional staff members have discussed his testifying to the House antitrust subcommittee soon about his company’s issues with them. Jose Castaneda, a Google spokesman, said Google and Sonos had discussed both companies’ intellectual property for years, “and we are disappointed that Sonos brought these lawsuits instead of continuing negotiations in good faith.”“We dispute these claims and will defend them vigorously,” he added.A spokeswoman for Amazon, Natalie Hereth, said the company did not infringe on Sonos’s technology. “The Echo family of devices and our multiroom music technology were developed independently by Amazon,” she said.Sonos sued Google in Federal District Court in Los Angeles and in front of the United States International Trade Commission, a quasi-judicial body that decides trade cases and can block the import of goods that violate patents. Sonos sued Google over only five patents, but said it believed Google and Amazon had each violated roughly 100. Sonos did not say
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