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New patent filing offers a first look at Sonos headphones

The headphones product is meant to work together with existing Sonos speaker setups.

New patent filing offers a first look at Sonos headphones

Images included in the filing show two possible designs for the company's wireless over-ear headphones.

Image: USPTO / Sonos

Sonos is getting serious about expanding beyond the home. The smart speaker maker was awarded a patent last week that provides the strongest evidence to date for Sonos-made headphones. Not only does the patent confirm that the company has been working on a long-rumored headphone product, it also mentions a number of possible features and outlines how it would integrate with existing Sonos speaker setups.

Bloomberg first reported in early 2019 that Sonos was looking to launch its own headphones, but the company had been able to avoid any subsequent leaks until now.

"As a company founded in innovation, we're always working on different ideas and innovations that can help the world listen better," a Sonos spokesperson said. "We continue to make investments in our strong patent portfolio with dozens of new patents each year. We do not have additional information to share at this time regarding our future product roadmap."

Sonos executives have for some time said that they were looking to launch products that work outside of the home. The company launched its first portable speaker, the Sonos Move, a year ago, and told investors at the time that it saw "significant opportunities" in the out-of-home market. An expansion beyond its existing smart speaker products could also allow Sonos to further diversify its business and add money to its coffers to sustain its legal fight against Google for alleged patent infringements.

The patent, which Sonos first applied for in September 2019, describes in detail how Sonos-made headphones might work and look. Images included in the filing show two possible designs for the company's wireless over-ear headphones. Judging from the filing, it is likely that the headphones will come with a noise cancellation feature that can be turned on and off, as well as one or more microphones for voice control. Sonos was the first smart speaker maker to support multiple voice assistants in its products, and the company is currently also developing a dedicated voice assistant for music control in-house.

It's not uncommon for companies to include features in a patent filing that won't make it into a final product, or describe a number of different implementations of the same feature. In this case, Sonos describes a number of different control mechanisms, including a knob extending from the headband as well as touch sensors, further signaling that the product will come with advanced control mechanisms for music streaming services. It also mentions a line-in port that could double as an interface for charging, as well as a possible USB-C charging port.

While many of the features mentioned in the filing are common for wireless headphones, one of the more interesting aspects is how the device might integrate with existing Sonos speakers through something the company calls a "swap."

From the filing: "For example, if a particular piece of content play is currently playing on the wireless headphone, a swap changes the playback to play that piece of content on one or more other playback devices on the local network."

This type of handover would make it easy for people to play music on their headphones while out and about, and then shift playback to their hi-fi system when they return home. Beyond this, it also indicates that Sonos is likely going to target its existing customer base for this new product. Sonos has long relied on repeat purchases from existing customers. In 2019, 37% of its newly sold products were registered by consumers who already owned at least one Sonos speaker.

Sonos has faced some economic pressure from the COVID-19 crisis, resulting in layoffs of 12% of its staff in June. The company has also been stepping up its fight against bigger competitors like Google and Amazon. It sued Google for alleged patent infringement in January. Last month, Sonos CEO Patrick Spence told Protocol that Amazon's practice of selling its Echo speakers below cost was illegal.

Updated: This post was updated at 12:22 p.m. PT to include Sonos' statement.

Big Tech benefits from Biden’s sweeping immigration actions

Tim Cook and Sundar Pichai praised President Biden's immigration actions, which read like a tech industry wishlist.

Newly-inaugurated President Joe Biden signed two immigration-related executive orders on Wednesday.

Photo: Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images

Immediately after being sworn in as president Wednesday, Joe Biden signed two pro-immigration executive orders and delivered an immigration bill to Congress that reads like a tech industry wishlist. The move drew enthusiastic praise from tech leaders, including Apple CEO Tim Cook and Alphabet CEO Sundar Pichai.

President Biden nullified several of former-President Trump's most hawkish immigration policies. His executive orders reversed the so-called "Muslim ban" and instructed the attorney general and the secretary of Homeland Security to preserve the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, or DACA, program, which the Trump administration had sought to end. He also sent an expansive immigration reform bill to Congress that would provide a pathway to citizenship for undocumented individuals and make it easier for foreign U.S. graduates with STEM degrees to stay in the United States, among other provisions.

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Emily Birnbaum

Emily Birnbaum ( @birnbaum_e) is a tech policy reporter with Protocol. Her coverage focuses on the U.S. government's attempts to regulate one of the most powerful industries in the world, with a focus on antitrust, privacy and politics. Previously, she worked as a tech policy reporter with The Hill after spending several months as a breaking news reporter. She is a Bethesda, Maryland native and proud Kenyon College alumna.

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It's the most wonderful time of the year — even for patents

Santa's getting ready to deliver presents, hopefully with this drone.

A 21st century Santa.

Image: USPTO

Merry Christmas and happy holidays! This week's patent roundup is a special holiday-themed edition. We're giving Big Tech the week off for the holidays and focusing on some of the zanier patents that have been granted by the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office for this joyous season. Some are tech-related, and some are just … pure Christmas.

Hopefully this Christmas Eve, as you curl up with some eggnog in one hand and your phone in the other, before you drift off to dream of sugar plum fairies, you'll find a Christmas miracle or two in here.

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Mike Murphy

Mike Murphy ( @mcwm) is the director of special projects at Protocol, focusing on the industries being rapidly upended by technology and the companies disrupting incumbents. Previously, Mike was the technology editor at Quartz, where he frequently wrote on robotics, artificial intelligence, and consumer electronics.

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Microsoft wants to use AR to see through fog and smoke

Apple autonomous cars, AI coffee orders, emailing help and other patents from Big Tech.

See what isn't there.

Image: Microsoft/USPTO

It's beyond dark out at 5:30 p.m. these days, so perhaps, as you're stuck at home with nowhere to go, you're tempted to log off your bad screen and onto your good screen a little earlier than you should. Perhaps that's what happened over at the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office, as this was a bit of a fallow week for patents from Big Tech.

That being said, there were still a few neat ones out there: Microsoft is looking into using AR to actually augment what you see; Apple is hard at work on autonomous vehicles; and Facebook, for some reason, is very concerned about the longevity of magnetic tapes.

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Mike Murphy

Mike Murphy ( @mcwm) is the director of special projects at Protocol, focusing on the industries being rapidly upended by technology and the companies disrupting incumbents. Previously, Mike was the technology editor at Quartz, where he frequently wrote on robotics, artificial intelligence, and consumer electronics.

Syng's $1,500 Cell Alpha speaker is on the way

The unique smart speaker made by Syng promises immersive spatial audio.

Syng's Cell Alpha smart speaker will cost $1,500, and you'll need three to really appreciate its spatial audio sound.

Image: Syng

Los Angeles-based audio hardware startup Syng is getting ready to take orders for its first product: The company is in the process of starting a presale campaign for Cell Alpha, a still-unannounced spatial audio speaker that is slated to ship in the first quarter of 2021. Syng is selling each Cell Alpha for $1,500, according to a presale page discovered by Protocol. The company is advising prospective customers that they will be able to get the most immersive sound with three or more Cell speakers. (Buyers of multiple speakers are set to receive a small discount.)

Syng didn't immediately respond to a request for comment.

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Janko Roettgers

Janko Roettgers (@jank0) is a senior reporter at Protocol, reporting on the shifting power dynamics between tech, media, and entertainment, including the impact of new technologies. Previously, Janko was Variety's first-ever technology writer in San Francisco, where he covered big tech and emerging technologies. He has reported for Gigaom, Frankfurter Rundschau, Berliner Zeitung, and ORF, among others. He has written three books on consumer cord-cutting and online music and co-edited an anthology on internet subcultures. He lives with his family in Oakland.

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Microsoft wants you to live on as a digital chatbot

Drone blimps, emotional video editing, better Apple Watches and other patents from Big Tech.

Is this the future of customer service or a really creepy way to honor loved ones who've died? Maybe both!

Image: USPTO

Hello patent roundup readers! It's been a while since I've brought you the latest Big Tech filings from the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office. Blame Thanksgiving and the latest Protocol Manuals. But never fear: We're back now, and there were some truly great patents from the last few weeks. Amazon wants to edit content when it thinks you're sad and blanket the world in drone blimps; Apple is thinking about making long-living wearables; and Microsoft wants to digitally resurrect your dead loved ones.

And remember: The big tech companies file all kinds of crazy patents for things, and though most never amount to anything, some end up defining the future.

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Mike Murphy

Mike Murphy ( @mcwm) is the director of special projects at Protocol, focusing on the industries being rapidly upended by technology and the companies disrupting incumbents. Previously, Mike was the technology editor at Quartz, where he frequently wrote on robotics, artificial intelligence, and consumer electronics.

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