EMAILED ON June 7, 2018 BY Conor Grant

Using patents to strong-arm big tech, Sonos made the smartest speaker in the room

Smart speaker company Sonos just unveiled a new product called Beam that will let users boss around Alexa, Siri, and Google Assistant — all from one box.

As Amazon, Apple, and Google battle for smart speaker supremacy, the tiny, employee-owned Santa Barbara company has developed an ingenious plan to beat the biggest tech companies in the world — and so far, it’s working.  

The Switzerland strategy: A plan to beat tech’s superpowers

Sonos has only received $110m in direct funding since the company was founded in 2002 — but managed to make about $1B in revenue in 2017. 

So how did the company get so big? First, the speakers are damn good. But more importantly, they’re quick and easy to use — because Sonos integrates with everyone.

In an interview with the Verge, Sonos CEO Mike Spence described this strategy as ‘Switzerland-ing’ the smart speaker world — meaning the company remains neutral to avoid conflicts and focus on making cool stuff.

From patent plays to partnerships

The 3 players racing to build the best voice-activated AI (Google, Apple, and Amazon) all make their own speakers. So why would all of them let Sonos use their prized tech? Especially without an exclusive contract?

They partnered with Alexa first. Then, Sonos (which, according to The Information, owns the most patents of any electronics company other than Apple) sued Google for patent infringement — and won. 

Instead of seeking a payout, Sonos demanded a partnership — and forced reluctant Google to share its prized tech.

Sonos’ plan for domination enters its next phase

Now, with its partners lined up, Sonos hopes to sell oodles of speakers to bolster a $3B IPO rumored to be coming this summer.

At $399, the Beam is more expensive than both Amazon’s and Google’s competing offerings (which are both $99.99). 

But Sonos hopes that the device’s higher quality and flexibility will help push sales up past Amazon’s — which still leads the market by hawking their “pucks” by the million.