Is this why Sonos decided to sue Google rather than going after Amazon?
Our search of U.S. patent records this afternoon, following news that the high-tech speaker maker is suing the search giant for patent infringement, turned up an interesting and potentially relevant patent that was granted to Amazon in 2016, based on a 2013 patent application.
Under the title, “Distributed speaker synchronization,” the patent describes a system that uses a “signal synchronization component” to perform calculations “to align signals corresponding to the output audio of the electronic audio devices and then determine a delay for the output audio transmitted from the electronic audio devices with respect to each other.”
“In this way, the output audio transmitted by the electronic audio devices may be synchronized,” the abstract for the Amazon patent explains.
This is notable in part because Sonos told the New York Times that it believes both Google and Amazon are violating its patents in their smart speakers, but it decided that it couldn’t take both of them on at once.
It’s just one patent, vs. the 100 that Sonos says Google and Amazon are violating, some dating back many years. But it gets to the heart of the functionality that the high-tech speaker maker cited in its patent infringement lawsuits against Google in U.S. District Court in San Francisco and the U.S. International Trade Commission.
Let the arguments over prior art and intellectual property ensue, but the situation illustrates the complexities of the patent system and the challenge that Sonos is taking on with its litigation.
Here are the five patents that Sonos is citing in its suit against Google, which focuses largely on multi-room music playback.
- Playback device connection, 10,439,896
- Playback device, 10,209,953
- Method and apparatus for adjusting volume levels in a multi-zone system, 8,588,949
- System and method for synchronizing operations among a plurality of independently clocked digital data processing devices, 9,195,258.
- Multi-channel pairing in a media system, 9,219,959
Charlie Kindel, a Seattle tech vet who worked previously at Amazon and Microsoft, cited the possibility that Google could end up getting help from Microsoft, which would be highly ironic, given past disputes between those two companies over intellectual property.
IIRC, MSFT (CHBU, WebTV, Mira, MediaCenter, …) filed equivalent patents on all this stuff back in 1997-2000. I predict these will all get invalidated as prior art once Google reviews MS's patent portfolio (IIRC, Google/MS have a pretty robust cross-licensing agreement). https://t.co/AndXNGtNgW
— charlie kindel ⭐⭐ (@ckindel) January 7, 2020
Here’s a relevant example, a Microsoft patent for a “System and method for calibration of an acoustic system,” dating back to 2004.
Google and Microsoft reached a patent truce back in 2015 after years of litigation.
In a statement, Amazon said the “Echo family of devices and our multi-room music technology were developed independently by Amazon.”
See the full text of Sonos’ suit against Google below.