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.”
Arista Fires Back at Cisco Over Patent Lawsuit
In the blog post announcing EOS+, Ullal talked about market “pioneers” and “protectors.” While not mentioning Cisco by name, the CEO was clear in her target.
“Protectors defend old habits and remain strongly entrenched in following legacy technology trends,” Ullal wrote. “They try to enforce new buzzwords and dictate markets in ways that maintain their dominant position with customers. They are often in denial of new technologies and market disruptions until it’s too late. They deploy inappropriate tactics that serve to distract customers and partners from making the investments that will lead to competitive advantage.”
Arista is among the pioneers, which “create and make technology and markets happen. They are not afraid to replace an older technology with a newer one.”
During a talk at the Barclays Global Tech Conference Dec. 9, Rob Lloyd, president of development and sales at Cisco, disputed the image of the company as an inhibitor to progress, noting that this is only the second time in 11 years that Cisco has sued another vendor over patent infringement.
“So if anybody wants to portray us as a company that uses our size and tries to slow things down—and slows down innovation—by suing people, it’s absolutely false,” Lloyd said, according to a transcript on Seeking Alpha. “That’s complete garbage, okay? What the facts are is that we saw a competitor increasingly referring in the marketplace in the last couple of quarters to the fact that they didn’t have to compete with us in a normal way.”
He also said Cisco is continuing to gain market share in the network switch market, pointing to its 77.9 percent share of the 40 Gigabit Ethernet modular switch space in the most recent quarter, a 33 percent jump from the same period last year.
“So that’s not losing in the market and slowing a competitor over a lawsuit,” Lloyd said. “That’s winning in the market and trying to protect our intellectual property.”
The legal dispute is impacting Arista, which went public earlier this year. The company’s stock price fell about 15 percent soon after Cisco filed the lawsuits, according to reports.