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US trade agency bans imports of some Google devices in Sonos patent fight

A ruling regarding home audio patents won't affect current products due to modifications.

Sonos won a product import ban in its patent battle against Google.

Google will be barred from importing some products that use technology covered by patents for home audio technology that are owned by speaker maker Sonos.

The US International Trade Commission issued the ban (PDF) Thursday after affirming a judge's decision in August that Google infringed on five patents owned by Sonos. However, the decision doesn't impact current Google products due to modifications made to avoid infringing on the patents.

The ruling follows a lawsuit Sonos filed in January 2020, alleging that the search giant stole its technology when the two companies partnered to make sure Google's music service worked well with Sonos speakers. The Santa Barbara, California-based company alleged that Google infringed on five patents, including tech that lets people listen to audio in different rooms. 

The ruling affirmed a preliminary ruling in August by Chief Administrative Law Judge Charles E. Bolluck, who found Google was in violation of the Tariff Act of 1930. Bolluck, however, didn't explain what had triggered the infringements.

Sonos applauded Thursday's decision, calling it an "across the board win."

"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," Sonos said in a statement.

Google said that while it disagreed with the decision, it appreciated that the commission approved its modified designs.

"We will seek further review and continue to defend ourselves against Sonos' frivolous claims about our partnership and intellectual property," Google spokesperson Jose Castaneda said in a statement.

Google's patent battle with Sonos comes as the search giant faces intense scrutiny from federal and state officials over its size and competitive practices. The search engine giant is the target of several major antitrust lawsuits, including a landmark case involving the US Department of Justice, and two complaints from bipartisan coalitions of states. Regulators and prosecutors are investigating everything from Google's search and advertising businesses to its Android operating system, the most dominant mobile software in the world.