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Arista fires back at Cisco's suits

Claims company is resorting to same tactics it derided 20 years ago

As Arista Networks reviews the infringement complaints Cisco filed against it last week, the company is firing back, accusing Cisco of resorting to the same tactics it faced from legacy vendors and derided 20 years ago. In a blog post, former Cisco executive Dan Scheinman, who was Cisco’s general counsel in 1990s when the company was sued by IBM and others, essentially said the company’s come full circle since that time.

Cisco is suing data center switching rival Arista for patent and copyright infringement, charging the company is copying technology invented at Cisco, including its command line interface. Scheinman is now on the Arista board:

Cisco’s lawsuit is just like the lawsuits (actual and threatened) brought against it in the 90’s by Lucent, IBM and Nortel – an attempt by a legacy vendor that is falling behind in the marketplace to use the legal system to try and slow a competitor who is innovating and winning.

Cisco is using litigation to make up for its lack of innovation in cloud software, the new paradigm in networking, Scheinman writes. In his days as general counsel at Cisco, Scheinman says CEO John Chambers reacted the same way when faced with legal action from IBM, Lucent and Nortel:

I agreed with Mr. Chambers quote then and I agree with it even more now. “Symbolically it’s huge,” Mr. Chambers said of the suit. “It shows that some companies don’t have a way to compete in this new market.”

Scheinman concludes his blog post by questioning the timing of Cisco’s suits, six years after Arista has been shipping product with the CLI in question and with no dialogue between the companies beforehand -- and now that Arista's gone public and is on an impressive growth trajectory, ostensibly at Cisco's expense:

Why now? The answer to that question speaks volumes about the real motivation going on here.

Cisco responded in kind to Scheinman’s blog. From the company’s legal spokesperson:

Arista's argument is a red herring. It’s what they want the world to focus on and ignores the most significant issues of patent violation. Using examples from decades ago, like Alcatel, Lucent and IBM, is not an accurate comparison. They all had very aggressive patent monetization programs, designed to extract money and cross-licenses. That approach and business model simply doesn’t exist at Cisco. 

The most important question is why Arista feels they could not innovate, like many of our competitors have done, to compete on their own. On the question as to 'why now?' - Cisco's sale of data center products are growing faster than Arista’s. Arista is losing market share. As they face the daunting task of delivering their next generation of product, our ask is that they use their own innovation rather than continue copying ours to do so.  And stop trying to use the copying from us as a basis for attracting customers.

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