Arista Fires Back at Cisco Over Patent Lawsuit

CEO Jayshree Ullal implies Cisco is using "inappropriate tactics" to protect its legacy, rather than competing through innovation.

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Arista Networks is pushing back at the lawsuit filed last week by Cisco Systems accusing the smaller networking vendor of violating copyrights on a range of Cisco products and patents.

In a post on the company's blog, Arista President and CEO Jayshree Ullal implied that Cisco is a relic of the last generation in networking trying to protect its legacy technology rather than innovating, and deploying "inappropriate tactics that serve to distract customers and partners from making the investments that will lead to competitive advantage." In another blog post, Arista board member (and ex-Cisco official) Dan Scheinman said the Cisco lawsuit echoes similar legal maneuvers made by Cisco rivals in the 1990s, when the networking giant was just beginning its journey to becoming the world's largest networking vendor.

In addition, Ullal, speaking to financial analysts during an event Dec. 9, reportedly admitted that Arista had copied less than 1 percent of a Cisco manual, an error that she said will be fixed within a week. However, the CEO—and former longtime Cisco executive—also said she is "dealing with this as a smear campaign. This is not the Cisco I knew," according to a New York Times report.

Cisco on Dec. 5 filed two lawsuits in the U.S. District Court for Northern California, claiming Arista is using 12 Cisco features covered by 14 patents in its own products and is promoting those capabilities as selling points for its own solutions. In a lengthy post on the company blog Dec. 5, Mark Chandler, senior vice president, general counsel and secretary at Cisco, wrote that most of patented features at the heart of the lawsuits were either patented by former Cisco employees who now work at Arista or by people at Cisco who had worked with those now at Arista. Most of the top executives at 10-year-old Arista are former Cisco employees.

One of the key products at issue is Arista's EOS network operating system. Chandler wrote that Arista copied more than 500 multi-word command-line expressions from Cisco's IOS OS for EOS. Arista on Dec. 9 announced a new version of the operating system, EOS+, which includes a software-development kit and pre-integrated applications.

In his blog post, Arista board member Scheinman argued that "Arista's EOS was developed from the ground up as a next-generation network operating system for the cloud based upon the pioneering technologies invented by Arista—far from the ugly messaging pursued by Cisco."

In addition, he said that Cisco lawsuits are no different than the ones filed and threatened in the 1990s against Cisco by the likes of IBM, Lucent and Nortel, which he called legacy vendors that were falling behind in the market and using the law to slow down a faster, innovative competitor.

"The networking industry is in the midst of a revitalization as the value shifts from boxes to cloud networking software [a shift that is causing apparent consternation at Cisco]," said Scheinman, who was legal counsel for Cisco in the 1990s. "Arista is winning the software battle in the cloud, so Cisco has chosen to do what others did to it previously and is attempting to use the legal system to cover for its lack of innovation in software … Suing the new competition did not work in 1998 and it will work no better in 2014."