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By Craig Shelburne, Co-Founder & General Counsel
Since creating Sonos in 2002, we have dedicated more than a decade to inventing home audio for the digital age. As interest has grown in our category, we have taken steps to be as transparent as possible with the industry about our inventions and where we intend to take them.
We have worked tirelessly to bring product innovation to the market, which is reflected in each of our 300+ patent filings. We respect intellectual property rights of others, just as we hope others will respect ours. However, that does not mean we will tolerate baseless claims asserted against us.
In 2012, a newly formed patent assertion entity (PAE) called Black Hills Media filed a suit against us for alleged infringement of 11 patents they had acquired from defunct companies. Despite Black Hills Media being a PAE (which are sometimes labeled as “patent trolls”), we thoroughly investigated the patents before deciding our course of action. Not only were we 100% certain that we did not infringe any of these patents, but we also strongly believed the patents themselves were not valid.
We chose to fight back in court and at the Patent Office. We spent millions of dollars and thousands of hours defending our position, on the principle that you should not pay for something you do not use. As the case progressed, we exposed Black Hills Media’s meritless allegations against Sonos, and one by one, it began dropping these patents until only a few remained. The trial for some of those patents was set for June 2015.
Many defendants routinely settle cases simply because they believe it is the easiest or cheapest way to deal with these issues. Sonos does not follow that model. In fact, we looked forward to our opportunity to prove our case at trial.
Faced with a looming court date and substantially reduced allegations, Black Hills Media recently dropped all of the remaining infringement claims for the patents set for trial in June. This is a major victory for Sonos as we continue to define the difference between real, protectable invention and baseless assertions.
There is a clear and simple line; respect the rights of others with valid IP and do not succumb to meritless claims. While we recognize the existence of abuses in the marketplace that cross this line, we still believe patents can and should be used for the benefit of all – by helping accelerate innovation.