Fed Circ. moves West Texas Google, Sonos patent dispute to Calif.

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A logo is seen on the New York Google offices. REUTERS/Andrew Kelly

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  • Dispute spans several jurisdictions, including California and ITC
  • California has stronger local interest in the case
  • Federal Circuit ordered Judge Albright to move similar case on Friday

(Reuters) - A federal appeals court on Monday moved Google LLC and Sonos Inc's West Texas patent case in their global dispute over multi-room audio technology to California federal court.

The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit said the "center of gravity" of the case, in which wireless speaker specialist Sonos accused Google of infringing five patents with its smart speakers, was in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California, overturning U.S. District Judge Alan Albright's August ruling to keep it in his Waco courtroom.

Sonos' 2020 lawsuit against Google in Texas followed patent infringement lawsuits the parties previously filed against each other in California. Their spat over the technology extends into other jurisdictions including France, Germany, the Netherlands, and the U.S. International Trade Commission, which preliminarily found in August that Google infringed five Sonos patents.

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A Sonos spokesperson said in a statement that while the company "respectfully disagree(s)" with Monday's decision, it has a "very strong case" and looks forward to "moving forward expeditiously in California."

Google and its attorney Charles Verhoeven of Quinn Emanuel Urquhart & Sullivan didn't immediately respond to a request for comment, nor did Sonos' attorneys Clement Roberts of Orrick Herrington & Sutcliffe and George Lee of Lee Sullivan Shea & Smith.

Albright's court has become a hotspot for patent litigation. Some consider it to favor patent owners, and he often refuses to transfer patent cases for convenience reasons.

Google petitioned the Federal Circuit to force Albright to move the case following his August ruling, arguing among other things that the Northern District of California has a stronger public interest in it.

Google is based in Mountain View, California in the district, and Sonos is based in Santa Barbara, California.

In a joint nonprecedential order on Monday, U.S. Circuit Judges Alan Lourie, William Bryson and Richard Taranto agreed with Google, finding among other things that Albright improperly discounted the fact that several potential witnesses were located in California. The appeals court also rejected Albright's consideration that witnesses from the Northeast would have to travel a shorter distance to get to Waco than to California.

In addition, the accused products were created in California and weren't related to Google's presence in Texas, the court said.

Google's Texas data centers also didn't favor hearing the case in the state, and the court found the potential relevance of an Austin-based former Google executive's testimony was "highly speculative."

The Monday ruling follows the same panel's precedential Friday decision ordering Albright to move a patent dispute involving Juniper Networks, also represented by Quinn Emanuel, from Texas to California, as well as similar recent decisions involving companies including Samsung Electronics Co Ltd and Hulu LLC.

The appeals court rejected similar petitions by Intel Corp and Samsung in a separate Monday ruling.

The case is In re Google LLC, U.S. Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit, No. 2021-170.

For Google: Charles Verhoeven of Quinn Emanuel Urquhart & Sullivan

For Sonos: Clement Roberts of Orrick Herrington & Sutcliffe; and George Lee of Lee Sullivan Shea & Smith

Read more:

U.S. trade judge finds Google infringed five Sonos patents

Google sues Sonos, escalating wireless speaker battle amid trade panel probe

Fed Circ moves Juniper's patent dispute from Waco to California

Texas' busiest patent judge shows no signs of slowing down

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Blake Brittain reports on intellectual property law, including patents, trademarks, copyrights and trade secrets. Reach him at blake.brittain@thomsonreuters.com