Guilty as charged! A10 Networks feels the patent blues

A court ruling will force A10 to pay Brocade $112 million in damages as the result of a 2010 patent lawsuit.

There’s a Johnny Cash song called “Cocaine Blues” with lyrics that read:

“In about five minutes in walked a man, holding the verdict in his right hand / 
The verdict read 'in the first degree,' I hollered Lordy Lordy have mercy on me”

I’m wondering if Lee Chen and the rest of the A10 management team are thinking something similar this morning. Last night a jury awarded data center networking specialist Brocade $112 million in damages as a result of a lawsuit filed in 2010 against A10 Networks. Brocade had made the claim that Chen and others created A10 and was able to accelerate the time to market for its products using proprietary knowledge from Foundry Networks (Foundry was acquired by Brocade post the creation of A10 Networks).

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Back in 2004, Lee Chen was Foundry’s VP of software engineering. In July of that year, Chen and other Foundry employees created a startup called Raksha Networks, which later became A10 Networks. From what I understand, Foundry had no restrictions on moonlighting and there was a significant paper trail of Foundry employees emailing source code to their A10 email accounts. The judgment found A10 guilty of three claims of patent infringement, pirating Foundry source code, misappropriation of a number of trade secrets.

It’s not clear what happens from here. Brocade has a secondary motion in place now that will determine whether A10 needs to either discontinue the product, re-write the source code, pay Brocade a license fee for any future products sold, or some other course of action.

Lawsuits, patent, and copyright infringements are nothing new to A10. Last year, ADC market-leader F5 also filed a lawsuit claiming that A10 copied source code to create its “aRules” and “iRules translator,” which to me always seemed like a rip off of F5’s iRules. I believe this lawsuit has been dropped, but it’s certainly helped with the notion that A10 has made a habit of taking short cuts.

This ruling definitely benefits Brocade, but also helps out F5. A10 has been a thorn in F5’s side, particularly in Japan and other parts of the Asian market where A10 managed to procure some good distribution partners. A10 came out of nowhere and, to the surprise of many industry watchers, was able to cut the development time of a specialized hardware platform like an ADC from several years to about three years, and has now grown to double-digit market share.

The lawsuit probably puts to bed any rumors of A10 as an acquisition target for Cisco, HP, Dell or anyone else looking to move into the ADC market. F5’s meteoric rise has created speculation that A10 would be plucked off by one of the larger networking vendors as a way of grabbing some of the lucrative ADC pie.

Lastly, from a customer perspective, I caution buyers to do their due diligence when evaluating products from any company. Although there was no proof years ago that A10 had done this, the speculation was always there, and the fact that it went from having no product to offering a fully competitive product in a fraction of the time it takes others made it seem too good to be true. If it seems too good to be true, there may be a reason why.

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