Sonos seeks details on law clerk’s Google ties in patent case

The logo for Google LLC is seen at the Google Store Chelsea in Manhattan, New York City, U.S., November 17, 2021. REUTERS/Andrew Kelly

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  • Judge disclosed one of his clerks formerly worked for Google
  • Sonos asked for more information to determine next move

(Reuters) – A California federal judge on Wednesday denied a bid by Sonos Inc for more information about one of his law clerks’ connections to Google LLC, after the judge disclosed that the unnamed clerk once worked for Google and still owns company stock.

Sonos told the court Tuesday that ethical conflicts involving the clerk could require U.S. District Judge William Alsup in San Francisco to remove himself from the case and asked for more information from the judge.

According to Sonos’ filing, Alsup revealed the potential conflict during a status conference last week.

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The company also said at least one clerk in Alsup’s district previously worked for both Google and its current law firm in the case, Quinn Emanuel Urquhart & Sullivan, though it was unclear if it was the same clerk the judge identified.

“As the Court knows, a judge’s reliance on a conflicted adviser is a well-established basis for recusal,” Sonos said in the filing.

Alsup denied Sonos’ request on Wednesday.

“Although the Court allowed questions during telephone conference, that was not intended to invite further questions after the fact,” Alsup said. “The Court feels adequate disclosure has been made.”

Alsup gave Sonos a Friday deadline to file a motion to disqualify him or the clerk from the case.

The case is part of an international patent dispute between Sonos and Google over smart-speaker technology. Sonos won an order from the U.S. International Trade Commission earlier this year blocking imports of some infringing Google products.

Google and an attorney for Sonos declined to comment on the Tuesday filing. A representative for the district court did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

In the case now before Alsup, Sonos sued Google in 2020, alleging its Chromecast streamers, Home speakers, Pixel phones, and other devices infringe its patents.

According to Sonos, Alsup told the parties last week that one of his clerks worked for Google “some years” ago. Alsup did not reveal the clerk’s identity.

Alsup also disclosed that the clerk owns Google stock and had placed it in a blind trust “about two weeks ago,” Sonos said. It argued the trust does not solve the potential conflict because the clerk still owns the stock.

Sonos said LinkedIn records show that a clerk in the Northern District of California, which includes Alsup’s San Francisco court, has worked for both Google and Quinn Emanuel. The clerk worked for Google’s legal department during the time Google said it came up with technology in some of the Sonos patents at issue, according to Sonos.

The case is Sonos Inc v. Google LLC, U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California, No. 3:21-cv-07559.

For Sonos: Clement Roberts of Orrick Herrington & Sutcliffe

For Google: Charles Verhoeven of Quinn Emanuel Urquhart & Sullivan

(NOTE: This story has been updated with information about Judge Alsup’s Wednesday ruling.)

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

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Blake Brittain

Thomson Reuters

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

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