The United States' international trade agency banned Google from importing products that use technology the agency determined infringes on patents owned by home audio device maker Sonos as part of its final ruling on a two-year patent fight between the tech companies.
The ruling Thursday will not affect current Google products, which the company is modifying in ways that mean they no longer infringe on Sonos's patents. Still, the decision from the U.S. International Trade Commission is a win for Sonos, which has fought for years to grow its business amid competition from the world's most powerful tech giants.
Smart speakers is an arena that's attracted Big Tech companies including Google, Apple, Amazon and Facebook. All four of the mammoth companies have built their own devices that are meant to serve as tech hubs in people's homes, opening new gateways for the companies to sell more services and advertising. Sonos has survived amid them all, trying to act as a neutral player that can integrate with home devices and voice assistants designed by its bigger competitors.
But relations have gotten tense between them over the years. The patent dispute with the International Trade Commission is just one place where Google and Sonos have fought. The two have also traded barbs on whether Google is placing unfair terms on how Sonos can integrate with Google's voice assistant.
The ruling from the International Trade Commission marks the end of a two-year investigation from the agency that incorporated multiple rounds of submissions from Google, Sonos and the public. It now goes to the White House, and Google can appeal the decision directly to the president if it wants.
"While we disagree with today's decision, we appreciate that the International Trade Commission has approved our modified designs and we do not expect any impact to our ability to import or sell our products," said Google spokesperson José Castañeda. "We will seek further review and continue to defend ourselves against Sonos' frivolous claims about our partnership and intellectual property."
The International Trade Commission initially determined in August that Google infringed on Sonos's patents. At the time, it also said Google's workaround for avoiding the patents was legitimate, meaning that Google products in their updated form didn't infringe on the patents anymore.
Despite that, Sonos contends Google is still infringing upon its patents and will keep pushing the fight.
"There is a possibility that Google will be able to degrade or eliminate product features in a way that circumvents the importation ban that the ITC has imposed," said Sonos chief legal officer Eddie Lazarus. "But 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."
Sonos is also pursuing two different federal lawsuits against Google.