While some of Cisco’s accusations were written off by the International Trade Commission (ITC) and the courts, Arista was still dealt some legal consequences for infringing multiple patents. Between redesigning one of its key products and dealing with an importation ban, Arista had some hurdles to overcome. Yet, Arista’s business wasn’t much affected throughout the entire process.
To top it all off, Arista’s president and CEO Jayshree Ullal was a former Cisco executive, and many Arista employees come from Cisco as well, bringing the dispute to a personal level.
What this really comes down to is that “The world of patents is changing with networking software,” says Peter Christy, an analyst with 451 Research. “The important part is that Cisco is now being clear as to how it values its [intellectual property] IP, which is a chilling warning to the rest.”
In the end, these types of lawsuits tend to suck up a huge amount of executive time, which could’ve been spent more productively, Christy says.
Here is a timeline highlighting the hurdles both companies have jumped over to stay on top.
December 5, 2014: The Beginning
Public for six months at this point, Arista had been taking notable market share from Cisco, and Cisco eventually claimed Arista took a lot more than that. Cisco sued Arista, claiming infringement on some of its patentable technology as well as over 500 command-line interface (CLI) commands, and used the Cisco-like interface as a selling point for its switching technology.
Cisco filed both a patent-infringement suit and a copyright suit against Arista in Federal District Court for the Northern District of California, as explained by General Counsel Mark Chandler in a Cisco blog.
The copyright-infringement case covered multiword commands used in Cisco’s CLI and user manuals where Cisco found that Arista had copied its commands down to the typos.
The company claims that Arista’s products incorporated 12 proprietary features covered by 14 patents. “They were patented by individuals who worked for Cisco and are now at Arista, or who at Cisco worked with executives who are now at Arista. These Cisco-created features and implementations are incorporated by Arista in their entirety into Arista’s products,” Chandler wrote.
December 11, 2014: Arista Responds
Ullal returned a heated response to Cisco, where she spent 15 years as an employee, reporting directly to Cisco CEO John Chambers. In an Arista blog, Ullal ruled the patent dispute as a case of “pioneers vs. protectors.”
“Protectors defend old habits and remain strongly entrenched in following legacy trends,” Ullal wrote. “They are often in denial of new technologies and market disruptions until it’s too late.”
Arista board members Charles Giancarlo and Dan Scheinman — both former Cisco executives — likewise wrote on Arista’s blog that Cisco was using the lawsuits as a way to slow down Arista from taking its market share.
July 9, 2015: First Dismissals
In efforts to really stick it to Arista and justify damages, Cisco appended its lawsuit to accuse Arista of “willful patent infringement and pre-suit indirect patent infringement.” (Emphasis added.) The accusation stemmed from an Arista’s announcement of EOS+, described as an evolution of Arista’s EOS, just days after the original lawsuits were filed.
Judge Beth Labson Freeman didn’t agree, granting a motion filed by Arista in March to dismiss Cisco’s charges, finding the EOS+ was not a new product but just “marketing puffery.”
Cisco by now had filed two separate patent infringement complaints with the ITC and both were awaiting investigation. The copyright infringement case also remained intact.
September 9, 2015: ITC Ruling Favors Cisco
After Cisco filed two complaints with the ITC in December, the staff recommendation landed in favor of Cisco, finding that Arista did in fact infringe on three of Cisco’s patents.
Both patent infringement cases and the copyright infringement case still hadn’t been heard in court, but the ITC findings would not help Arista’s case. Originally accused of infringing 12 Cisco patents, Arista managed to have some of those charges dismissed by this point.