The International Trade Commission (ITC) ruled today that Google cannot import phones, laptops, or speakers into the United States because they violate five Sonos patents. Furthermore, it must stop selling infringing devices it has already imported.
“Google has violated section 337 of the Tariff Act of 1930, as amended, by importing, selling for importation, or selling in the United States after importation certain audio players and controllers, components thereof, and products containing the same that infringe one or more claims of [five Sonos patents],” the ITC ruling explains. “The Commission has determined that the appropriate remedies are a limited exclusion order and a cease and desist order against Google.”
The immediate impact is unclear as the ban takes place in 60 days unless the president of the United States vetoes the order, which is highly unusual. All of Google’s smart speakers and smart displays violate some or all of the relevant patents, but it’s not clear if all of its Pixel-branded smartphones and laptops do. Google devices without an audio system, like Nest thermostats, are not affected by the ban. Regardless, Google can make changes to its products so that they do not impact the Sonos patents, and that could solve the problem.
Sonos declared the ruling an “across the board win” as its stock price jumped in after-hours trading. And there are still two Sonos court cases pending against Google, one of which was waiting on the outcome of the ITC investigation.
“While Google may sacrifice consumer experience in an attempt to circumvent this importation ban, its products will still infringe many dozens of Sonos patents, its wrongdoing will persist, and the damages owed Sonos will continue to accrue,” a Sonos statement reads. “Alternatively, Google can — as other companies have already done — pay a fair royalty for the technologies it has misappropriated.”
Google was a bit less happy with the ruling.
“While we disagree with today’s decision, we will ensure our shared customers have the best experience using our products and do not experience any disruption,” a Google spokesperson said. “We will seek further review and continue to defend ourselves against Sonos’ frivolous claims about our partnership and intellectual property.”