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David Lawder and Paresh Dave

U.S. trade panel opens patent probe into Google speakers after Sonos complaint

FILE PHOTO - A Google booth is seen during the China Digital Entertainment Expo and Conference (ChinaJoy) in Shanghai, China August 2, 2019. Picture taken August 2, 2019. REUTERS/Stringer

The U.S. International Trade Commission said on Thursday it was launching a patent investigation into certain audio players and controllers sold by Alphabet Inc's Google based on a complaint by rival smart speaker maker Sonos Inc.

The ITC received a complaint from Sonos last month alleging that the import of certain audio players and controllers and their components infringe on its patents.

Sonos at the time also filed a patent infringement lawsuit against Google in U.S. District Court in Los Angeles and testified to a House of Representatives antitrust subcommittee about its frustrations with Google.

"Sonos has made misleading statements about our history of working together. Our technology and devices were designed independently. We deny their claims vigorously, and will be defending against them," Google spokesman Jose Castaneda said in a statement on Thursday.

The ITC has in some cases issued orders banning products from U.S. entry on the grounds they infringe U.S. patents. The threat of such bans, known as exclusion orders, can be leverage in settlement discussions.

But companies subject to the bans are often able to keep importing products by redesigning them to avoid using patented technology.

Sonos spokeswoman Erin Pategas said the company was pleased that the ITC will investigate "all of our claims asserting Google blatantly infringed our intellectual property. We’ll fully cooperate throughout the duration of the investigation and feel confident about the merits of our case."

The maker of premium home speaker devices has said Google copied its technology for connecting together multiple speakers during partnership discussions. Some Sonos speakers include voice assistant technology from Google and Inc.

Google separately sells its own Nest smart speakers, many of which are more affordable than Sonos speakers and also include Google Assistant technology and multi-device connection capabilities.

The search giant has disputed Sonos' infringement claims.

Sonos on Wednesday reported fourth-quarter revenue that beat expectations.

Google on Monday said its hardware sales declined in the fourth quarter from a year ago.

(Reporting by David Lawder, Andrea Shalal and Jan Wolfe in Washington and Paresh Dave in San Francisco; Editing by Chris Reese, Tom Brown and David Gregorio)

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