United States: Audio Giant Silencing The Competition: Sonos Continues Its Competitor-Centric Patent Offensive, This Time Against Bluesound And Their PULSE Line Of Wireless Networked Audio Technology

Last Updated: October 1 2019
Article by Jonathan Barnard

Fresh off the heels of a major patent infringement win against competitor Denon Electronics and their HEOS line of wireless multi-room audio systems, Sonos is now taking aim at Canada-based Lenbrook Industries Limited, the creator of competitor audio brand Bluesound and their PULSE line of wireless audio products. Sonos, best known for its innovation in wireless multi-room home audio systems, recently filed a patent infringement lawsuit against Bluesound, a relative newcomer into the wireless audio space, in the Central District of California. Among other claims, Sonos alleges infringement of seven of its patents generally relating to the control of audio volume across multiple speakers, synchronization of multiple speakers, and networked media playback.

As a highly successful innovator in the field of wireless audio technology, Sonos claims it reinvented the way consumers experience home audio with the invention of their multi-room wireless home audio system with intelligent, networked playback devices. With the introduction of Sonos' innovative audio technology, the conventional hardwired configuration of audio players has since been replaced by their wireless zone players that can either simultaneously play different audio from different sources or be grouped together to play the same audio source in a synchronized manner. As just one measure of its innovation in wireless home audio, Sonos has already amassed a portfolio of more than 630 U.S. patents relating to audio technology, with at least an additional 370 applications pending since its founding in 2002. Sonos' patent portfolio is of such quality, that in its analysis of the technology word's most valuable patent portfolios in 2017, IEEE ranked Sonos' patent portfolio second in electronics, behind only Apple.

Not to be outdone by the competition, the first-time patent defendant and one-time distributor of Sonos products Bluesound quickly climbed the success ladder despite stiff competition from its award-winning rivals. Launched in 2013 as the newest member of the 40-year-old Lenbrook Group of Companies, Bluesound has won the Home Theater High Fidelity "Best Wireless Speaker System" award in 2016, the Electronic House "Best Home Music System of 2017" award, and in 2018 Bluesound's products took home two What Hi-Fi? awards in the Best Music Streamer Under £500 and Best Hi-Fi System under £1000 categories.

In its 91-page complaint filed on June 20, 2019, not only does Sonos assert that Bluesound copied their product lineup and imitated the look and feel of Sonos' products and marketing style, Sonos also asserts seven of its patents related to adjusting volume levels in a multi-zone system, synchronizing audio playback among independently clocked digital data processing devices, providing audio in a multi-channel listening environment, transferring playback of multimedia content from a control device to a zone group, controlling an audio amplifier based on packet type, and smart in-line processing. To bolster its claims of willful infringement, Sonos includes detailed claim charts for each asserted patent that illustrate how Bluesound products allegedly align with various protected claims of Sonos' asserted patents. Sonos further includes excerpts from various media outlets such as Digital Trends that, over the years, have observed how Bluesound has "merely copied Sonos," has "gone out of its ways to mimic Sonos'[] products," and has "imitated the look and feel of Sonos'[] products and marketing style." In addition to a finding of willful infringement, Sonos also seeks an injunction on Bluesound's PULSE line of wireless audio products, and a judgment that the case is exceptional thereby entitling Sonos to enhanced damages.

In its defense, while it is still early and Bluesound has yet to file an answer or counter lawsuit, Lenbrook—owner of the Bluesound brand—has released a statement asserting how the Bluesound ecosystem of audio products and technology is a result of "40 years of internal or contracted Lenbrook know-how in the areas of amplification, acoustics, and connected audio." The statement further asserts that Bluesound's "high resolution audio capabilities substantively differentiates Lenbrook's products from those of Sonos and many other of Sonos' actual direct competitors."

This is not the first time Sonos has asserted its patent portfolio against a competitor. In fact, two of the seven asserted patents in this case have been previously successfully asserted against Sonos competitor Denon. Specifically, in a devastating blow to Denon during its highly watched intellectual property battle against Sonos, not only did a jury rule against Denon on three of four patent infringement claims brought by Sonos and order Denon to pay nearly $2 million in damages, but in an uncommon move, a judge ruled that three of the nine patents Denon asserted against Sonos in its counter infringement lawsuit invalid under Section 101 of the Patent Statute. While the outcome in the Denon litigation may not be a predictor of what is in store for Bluesound, at the very least it is another indicator of the strength and quality of Sonos' patent portfolio.

Unlike the majority of patent lawsuits in the High-Tech space that are initiated by patent trolls, both this lawsuit and the lawsuit against Denon are two increasingly common examples of an operating company enforcing its patent rights against alleged infringers. With the growing adoption of smart homes and implementation of connected devices (Internet of Things), the global wireless audio market is projected to reach just south of $40 billion by 2025. It is understandable, then, why both Sonos and Bluesound are jockeying to be in the best position possible heading into the future in a field teeming with innovative companies. What is probably on many consumers' minds, though, is whether this litigation will prevent Bluesound from continued sale of its award-wining PULSE line of audio products. For that answer, though, only time will tell.

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