Cisco: SCOTUS Decision in Oracle-Google Good for Case vs. Arista

The Supreme Court's decision to not hear Google's appeal in the copyright case lends support to Cisco's lawsuit against Arista, its attorney says.

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The Supreme Court's decision last week not to hear Google's appeal of a lower court ruling in the company's legal battle with Oracle over copyrights and APIs could be a boost to Cisco Systems in its own litigation against Arista Networks, according to Cisco's attorney.

Oracle is suing Google over how the search giant developed the Android mobile operating system. Android was built using the Java programming language created by Sun Microsystems, which Oracle bought in 2010 for $7.4 billion. Google used application programming interfaces (APIs) already available for Java to help drive the development of applications on Android. Oracle officials have argued that the software giant should be able to get licensing fees for use of the copyrighted APIs; Google officials have said that APIs can be copyrighted.

By declining to hear the case, the Supreme Court justices let stand a federal appeals court decision from last year that said that the Java APIs could be copyrighted, but that Google may still have used the APIs legally under fair use. Now Google officials will have to go back to the lower courts to argue just that.

Some in the industry have argued that a win for Oracle could squash innovation by enabling software companies to sue developers or demand licensing fees when they use an existing API to make their applications.

"The free and open use of APIs has been both routine and essential in the computer industry since its beginning, and that use was based on the sensible assumption that APIs and other interfaces could not be copyrighted," Mitch Stoltz, staff attorney for the Electronic Frontier Foundation, wrote in a post on the group's blog, adding that the Federal Appeals Court decision in favor of Oracle was an outlier when compared to rulings by other courts around the world.

Cisco officials were happy with the Supreme Court's decision not to hear the case. Cisco in December 2014 filed two lawsuits in federal court claiming that Arista is using 12 Cisco features covered by 14 patents in its own products and is promoting those capabilities as selling points for its solutions. The company also asked the International Trade Council to ban Arista from selling the products in question.

A key part of Cisco's argument is that Arista, in developing some of its own products, copied more than 500 of the commands in Cisco's command line interface (CLI) in developing its EOS networking OS.

In a post on the company blog, Mark Chandler, senior vice president, general counsel and secretary at Cisco, said there were some similarities in the argument Oracle made against Google in the API case. And had the Supreme Court reversed the lower court's decision in the Oracle-Google case, it could have impacted Cisco's litigation against Arista, he added.

"It's worth noting that Arista also offers a CLI that they created themselves (though it's not used by many of their customers), and the only justification in their public statements prior to the litigation was that their users preferred Cisco's CLI," Chandler wrote. "With that in mind, we've always felt that Arista's copying of large portions of the Cisco CLI could be distinguished from Google's argument in that there was no alternative to the API code to create Java-compatible applications. However, the Supreme Court decision … to decline to review Oracle's win in the Federal Circuit, effectively removed another argument that Arista could make to the Court."

Arista is a fast-growing networking company that includes several ex-Cisco officials among its top executives, such as President and CEO Jayshree Ullal and founder and Chief Development Officer Andy Bechtolsheim. Arista officials, pushing back at the Cisco claims, argue that the legal action was indicative of Cisco's worry about the competition and that Arista had copied less than 1 percent of a Cisco manual, and that the error would be corrected.