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Google Barred by US Trade Court From Importing Products Infringing Sonos’ Patents

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By Reuters | Updated: 8 January 2022

A US trade court barred Google late Thursday from importing products that infringe home-audio company Sonos’ smart-speaker patents.

The US International Trade Commission affirmed an August decision that Google audio products infringed five Sonos patents and banned Google from importing “networked speaker devices” and devices that can control them like mobile phones and laptops.

The ruling says Google won’t be barred from importing products that it had redesigned to avoid infringing the patents. A Google spokesperson said it does not expect the decision to affect to its ability to import or sell its products.

“We will seek further review and continue to defend ourselves against Sonos’ frivolous claims about our partnership and intellectual property,” the company said.

Sonos’ Chief Legal Officer Eddie Lazarus called the ruling an “across-the-board” win and said Google’s products still infringe the patents despite its attempts to design around them.

Sonos’ stock was up 1.5 percent in late morning trading on Friday, having earlier risen more than 3 percent.

The parties have been embroiled in a global patent war over multi-room audio technology since 2020 that includes court cases in California, Canada, France, Germany, and the Netherlands, according to a Sonos regulatory filing.

Sonos first sued Google in Los Angeles, alleging the company misused its technology in “more than a dozen different infringing products”, including Google Home speakers and Pixel phones, tablets, and laptops.

Google responded with its own lawsuit in San Francisco, alleging Sonos used “substantial volumes” of its technology without permission for several products, including controller apps and its Sonos Radio service.

At the ITC, Sonos had been trying to block Google from importing Home speakers, Pixel phones, and other products from China.

© Thomson Reuters 2021

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Google Infringed Five Sonos Patents, US Trade Judge Finds

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By Reuters | Updated: 14 August 2021

A US trade judge ruled on Friday that Alphabet’s Google infringed five patents belonging to Sonos that concern smart speakers and related technology, a decision that could lead to an import ban.

The brief ruling from Charles Bullock, the chief administrative law judge of the US International Trade Commission, did not explain why Google’s sale of the products violated a 1930 federal tariff law, commonly known as Smoot-Hawley, designed to prevent unfair competition.

Sonos has been trying to block Google from importing Home smart speakers, Pixel phones and other products from China.

Google did not immediately respond to requests for comment.

Sonos said it was pleased with the preliminary ruling, which it said “confirmed Google’s blatant infringement” and furthered its efforts to defend its technology against alleged misappropriation by larger rivals.

Shares of Sonos were up 11.4 percent in after-hours trading.

Friday’s ruling is subject to review by the full ITC, scheduled for December 13 according to the commission’s website.

The ITC case is part of an array of litigation between the two companies, including cases in California, Texas, France, Germany, and the Netherlands, according to regulatory filings.

Google has said Sonos repeatedly sought help during their years of partnership, and it eventually integrated Sonos products into its Play Music service and Google Assistant software.

Some Sonos speakers have used voice assistance technology from Google and Amazon.com. Google’s own Nest smart speakers include Google Assistant technology.

Sonos is based in Santa Barbara, California, and Alphabet in Mountain View, California.

© Thomson Reuters 2021

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Sennheiser Consumer Unit to Be Purchased by Hearing Aid Maker Sonova for EUR 200 Million

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By Reuters | Updated: 7 May 2021

Sonova, the world’s biggest hearing aid maker, said on Friday it will buy the consumer unit of German headphone and microphone maker Sennheiser for EUR 200 million (roughly Rs. 1,775 crores) to reach younger customers through the emerging segment of in-ear wearables.

The Switzerland-based company traditionally specialises in devices for people with significant hearing loss, which has made older people their core customer demographic so far, but it now hopes to reach younger customers who already use in-ear devices to listen to music and answer phone calls.

“Even if they don’t have hearing loss, most of them will gradually get hearing loss with age, and devices like Sennheiser’s allow us to have earlier consumer access to such people,” Chief Executive Arnd Kaldowski told Reuters in an interview.

For now, the Sennheiser products Sonova will be developing and marketing can be used primarily for improving the quality of sound heard by the user, but in the future, they might develop into wearable devices with more advanced functions, Kaldowski said.

So-called hearables are an emerging hybrid technology that combines the features of wearable devices such as fitness trackers – which can monitor heart rate, eye movements, body temperature and brain electrical activity – with the form and functionality of a headphone.

“I don’t think now, but it’s definitely technically possible and I believe it will happen and I think it’s important,” Kaldowski said.

Sonova said the all-cash transaction, which should close in the second half of 2021, will give it a permanent licensing agreement for the Sennheiser brand, allow it to expand in the broader consumer headphone segment, benefit from Sennheiser’s online distribution channels and immediately start adding to its earnings.

© Thomson Reuters 2021

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