In 60 days Google could be banned from shipping Pixel units to the U.S.
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A final determination released by the International Trade Commission (ITC) says that Google has "violated section 337 of the Tariff Act of 1930, as amended, by importing, selling for importation, or selling in the United States after importation certain audio players and controllers, components thereof, and products containing the same that infringe one or more claims of U.S. Patent Nos. 9,195,258; 10,209,953; 9,219,959; 8,588,949; and 10,439,896.
ITC slaps Google with an exclusion order that could ban the importation of Pixel phones into the U.S.
The five patents belong to speaker manufacturer Sonos and the ITC has determined that Google deserves to be slapped with a limited exclusion order and a cease and desist order. The latter forces Google to stop manufacturing and shipping products made overseas and imported into the states that infringe on Sonos' patents. This includes Nest speakers, Chromecast devices, and Pixel smartphones.
The ITC's ruling could block Google from importing Pixel devices into the states in 60 days
Those infringing devices will be banned from entry into the U.S. in 60 days depending on the result of a presidential review. President Biden could veto the ruling. While such an action by a sitting president is rare, you might recall that in 2013, President Obama vetoed an ITC trade ban against the iPhone 4 and some iPads that was the result of a suit filed by Samsung. Google could escape the ban by making changes to its software.
Sonos sued Google in 2020 after saying that Google took advantage of its partnership with the company to use Sonos' intellectual property on Google's products. Among these patents include one that allows Sonos speakers to connect wirelessly. Google, as you would expect it to do, denied the claims and countersued alleging that Sonos infringed on its patents.
Following the ITC's ruling, a Sonos spokesman told Android Central that "We appreciate that the ITC has definitively validated the five Sonos patents at issue in this case and ruled unequivocally that Google infringes all five. That is an across the board win that is surpassingly rare in patent cases and underscores the strength of Sonos's extensive patent portfolio and the hollowness of Google's denials of copying."
The Sonos patents that the company claims Google used without permission allow users to easily set up a Sonos device that controls home audio systems, the pairing of multiple speakers, the independent volume control of different speakers, and the stereo pairing of speakers.
Sonos says that Google can "pay a fair royalty for the technologies it has misappropriated"
Sonos adds, "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. 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. Alternatively, Google can —as other companies have already done —pay a fair royalty for the technologies it has misappropriated."
Grab the Google Pixel 6 or Pixel 6 Pro
That last sentence surely has to annoy and irk Google. Company spokesperson José Castañeda told Android Central, "While we disagree with today's decision, we will ensure our shared customers have the best experience using our products and do not experience any disruption. We will seek further review and continue to defend ourselves against Sonos' frivolous claims about our partnership and intellectual property."
The big news here is that Pixel phones are involved in the limited exclusion order. The Pixel 6 and Pixel 6 Pro were released last October and despite some bugs (traditional for a newly released Pixel), demand for the Pixel 6 line has been strong. The bottom line here is that Google can't afford to be too much of a wise guy and will probably create a workaround that allows it to continue importing the handsets into the U.S. without using Sonos' intellectual property. Or, it will have to pay royalties to use the patents in question.
Again, there is always the chance that Google gets a pass from the president, but the company isn't the most well-liked entity in D.C. by both Republicans and Democrats.