Struggling network sound company, Sonos, who many at CES 2020 believe are facing a grim future as they hang onto a proprietary operating system, are now suing Google in a bizarre move that experts claim could be a grab for settlement money.
The market for networked sound is booming, and at CES, we have seen several new products from brands such as Denon – with their 24bit speakers with Heos built-in, as well as new products from Harman Kardon, which sound significantly superior to what Sonos is delivering today.
Shortly, Australia will see a stylish new speaker from European company Braun, which is not only 24-bit, but looks significantly more appealing than Sonos’ offering.
The problem for Sonos is that brands such as Google and Amazon are selling in a month what Sonos sell in a year, and this is hurting the US-based sound company, who since they first appeared at CES in 2005 with a box called the Digital Music Machine, have struggled to make a profit despite the company having little, if any, competition in the networked speaker market.
Sonos claimed that back in 2013, the company handed over to Google the blueprint for the design of the Sonos speakers. The executives now say they were naïve.
There is even talk that they also want to sue Amazon, with several journalists at CES saying what’s next – Denon, Harmon Kardon, Bose, Marshall or JBL.
Sonos is seeking financial damages and a ban on the sale of Google’s speakers, smartphones and laptops in the US. Sonos accused Google of infringing on five of its patents, including technology that lets wireless speakers connect and synchronise with one another, which is a process that many of the networked speakers sold by competitors are able to do.
One of the big problems that Sonos face is that they are basically selling old proprietary technology that is 16-bit vs. 24-bit found in many of the new speakers. Currently, Sonos cannot do 24-bit-based speakers on their proprietary network.
Basically, Sonos needs Google and Amazon voice technology just to be competitive, and if either company denies them access to their voice activation technology, it will be a major blow to the struggling company.
The New York Times claims that Sonos’ 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 claimed.
Sonos advertises its speakers on Google and sells them on Amazon and has 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.
Patrick Spence, Sonos chief executive, decided he couldn’t take it anymore and this week leaked to the New York Times the fact that the company is suing Google.
“We’re left with no choice but to litigate,” he adds.
Spence has even taken his claims to the US Government, with congressional staff members now working out how he can testify to the US House Antitrust Subcommittee soon about his company’s issues with them.
“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,” said Google spokesman Jose Castaneda.
Many at CES 2020 claim that the move by Sonos is a stab at trying to get a financial settlement as the company struggles to make a profit.
Sonos shares initially fell on the news but have now recovered to US$15.32.