Regulators to Review Claims in Patent Dispute Between Cisco, Arista

The ITC will determine whether Arista infringed on several Cisco patents when developing its networking technologies.

tech law

Cisco Systems in February scored a win in its legal dispute with networking rival Arista Networks when a single administrative judge with the International Trade Commission ruled that Arista had violated three of Cisco's patents.

Now the full federal regulatory agency will review the judge's ruling, a decision hailed by officials with Cisco and Arista alike, with both companies having requested such a review weeks after the judge's ruling Feb. 2.

The judge also had found that a fourth patent cited by Cisco had not been infringed upon.

In response to the initial Feb. 2 ruling, Mark Chandler, senior vice president, general counsel and secretary at Cisco, wrote in a post on the company blog that the decision "marks the beginning of the end for Arista's systemic copying of our intellectual property."

"Arista can no longer support claims to customers, resellers, and the market that they created products from 'a clean sheet of paper,'" Chandler wrote. "The patents in question go to the core of Arista's products."

In another blog post this week, the Cisco executive said he was pleased with the International Trade Commission's (ITC) April 11 decision to review the case further.

"We welcome this additional review by the full Commission, and believe it is an important step in the comprehensive investigation and review of evidence by the ITC," Chandler wrote.

Marc Taxay, senior vice president and general counsel for Arista, had a similar response.

"We appreciate the commission's decision to review certain aspects of the Initial Determination," Taxay said in a statement sent to journalists. "We remain confident in the merits of our case and look forward to presenting that to the full Commission as part of the review process."

The legal dispute between the two rivals began in December 2014, when Cisco filed two lawsuits in federal court claiming patent and copyright infringements, alleging Arista is using 12 Cisco features covered by 14 patents in its own products. Two weeks later, Cisco officials involved regulators when they asked the ITC to ban Arista from selling or importing any of the disputed products.

Cisco officials have argued that all the patents at issue were either invented by Cisco employees who became Arista executives—such as Arista CEO Jayshree Ullal—or by engineers who worked for those Arista officials when they were employed at Cisco. They have said that Arista's use of Cisco's intellectual property was deliberate and driven by senior executives. The three patents that the ITC judge ruled were violated involved private virtual LANs and SysDB for managing configuration data.

Arista officials have pushed back, suing Cisco in U.S. District Court in Northern California in January and accusing the larger vendor Cisco of monopolistic business practices that unfairly harm both competing vendors and users. With its lawsuits and complaints, Cisco is not so much defending its IP but rather protecting a threatened business model and its large share of the data center networking market, they've said.

"Struggling to apply old technology to the new world of cloud computing, Cisco is potentially facing the largest loss of data center market share in its history," Kenneth Duda, CTO and senior vice president of software engineering at Arista and a software engineer at Cisco for almost three years in the late 1990s, wrote in a post on the Arista blog after the administrative law judge's ruling. "We can understand why Cisco would take the battle from the marketplace to the courtroom."

They also have argued that Cisco officials in the past have claimed that its command line interface (CLI) is essentially an industry standard, a claim that Cisco officials have denied.