Patent infringement lawsuits can quickly metastasize in other lawsuits in both state and federal courts. The size and complexity of the litigation often appears to vary in direct proportion to the amount of money involved.
A dispute between Alphabet’s Google L.L.C. and Sonos, Inc. regarding the technology used in Google’s “smart speakers” has not only expanded but has also drawn the judge’s wrath over the pre-trial maneuverings by the parties’ attorneys.
Google and Sonos were formerly partners in the development of multi-room wireless audio systems. The disputes has given rise to lawsuits in the United States, Canada, France, Germany and the Netherlands. Sonos claims that Google infringed two of its patents relating to technology used in the manufacture of wireless audio systems that respond to oral commands from users.
Sonos has not commented on the litigation, even though a trial in the case is soon scheduled to begin in San Francisco. A Google spokesperson said that the case relates only to “some very specific features that are not commonly used.”
The business background
The two companies previously worked together to integrate Google’s streaming music service into several Sonos products. Sonos sued Google in 2020, claiming that Google copied important aspects of its technology during their collaboration.
Sonos won a brief import ban on some Google devices from the International Trade Commission, but google has appealed this decision. Google also responded to this case with its own patent infringement lawsuits in California and at the ITC.
The judge’s comments
U.S. District Judge William Alsup, who will preside over the trial, expressed great frustration with the parties’ pretrial tactics. He called parties’ attacks on each other’s expert witnesses “emblematic” of the worst of patent litigation, with much ink “being spilled for little purpose.” The judge concluded is order by noting “[B]y the end, our parties’ legal bills will likely have been able to build dozens of schools, pay all the teachers, and provide hot lunches to the children.”
The judge’s anger in this case should be a warning to businesses contemplating bringing a patent infringement case. It’s also a reminder for business leaders to protect their intellectual property.