It’s one thing for a new player to shake up a particular niche technology, the way Sonos is doing with connected speakers. It’s another thing entirely for that company to take a fundamentally different approach to dealing with intellectual property.
The speaker manufacturer has announced its plans to “forward-publish” some of its patent applications. This is certainly not a common practice for technology companies, and it raises several questions, mainly “What, exactly, is Sonos doing?” and “Why?”
According to a blog post by the company, it plans to publish some of its patent applications before the United Stated Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO) does. Normally, when a company files a patent application, the USPTO publishes the application and associated art about 18 months later. Sonos wants to preempt that timetable by publishing selected patent applications on its own, ahead of that timetable.
Sonos claims that it wants to promote transparency and help improve overall listening experiences for consumers, but in reality, it likely intends to serve notice to other companies that are trying to break into this space. The general counsel of Sonos, Craig Shelburne, spoke to gigom.com, stating that the strategy was unusual, but that it had no intention of abusing the patent system.
The action does show a potential issue with the current patent system. There is a bit of a paradox involved, as most inventors are reluctant to share their discoveries unless they have patents, which stymies innovation – the exact thing that patents are supposed to inspire. We’ll have to see if Sonos’ strategy catches on, and if other companies decide to buck the patent system.
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