ITC scrutinizes Sonos’ claims against Google

The International Trade Commission is taking a closer look at Sonos Inc.’s claims that Alphabet Inc.’s Google infringes patents for home audio systems and is considering whether to shut some Google smart home devices, phones and laptops out of the U.S. market.

The International Trade Commission said it would review part of a judge’s findings that Google infringed five Sonos patents and cleared product redesigns of any violation.

Both companies asked the agency to review aspects of the judge’s findings that went against them.

Specifically, the commission said it would review whether products accused of infringing two of the patents are “articles that infringe at the time of importation.”

The commission said it won’t review remaining issues in the judge’s determination, and will consider a possible remedy, which could mean an import ban. A final decision is scheduled to be issued on Jan. 6.

Sonos said the notice means that the administrative law judge’s finding of a violation will stand.

Sonos claims that Google learned of Sonos’s technology under the guise of a working partnership to integrate Google Play Music into Sonos’s products, but instead used the patented ideas in its Home and Chromecast systems and Pixel phones and laptops.

Google has filed its own claims in district court accusing Sonos of trying to take credit for work owned by Google.

Sonos and Google have traded patent-infringement allegations in the U.S. and Europe.

Sonos said Google is trying to evade a potential import ban by pointing to “incomplete” products that shouldn’t have been considered by the judge.

Google acted to ensure it would never be affected by an import ban by “flooding the case with piecemeal, hypothetical redesigns, dashed off with no quality control, and never incorporated into any product through any standard product design channels,” Sonos told the commission.

Sonos has the backing of the Innovation Alliance, a group of patent owners including Qualcomm Inc. and AbbVie Inc., which said big tech companies find it cheaper to use another company’s inventions and worry about litigation later, a strategy known as “efficient infringement.”