Arista Networks scored a key victory Wednesday when a federal jury ruled that it's not liable for damages related to Cisco's claims of copyright infringement.
In announcing the decision, Arista President and CEO Jayshree Ullal lauded the verdict in an email as a "moral victory for the entire networking industry." Mark Chandler, SVP and general counsel at Cisco, in a blog expressed disappointment in the San Jose jury's ruling and stood by the company's claims against Juniper.
The ruling in the Northern District of California court is the latest development in the wide-ranging legal battle between the networking rivals. Two years ago, Cisco sued Arista, claiming patent and copyright infringement. Cisco argued that Arista copied its command-line interfaces from Cisco IOS into its Extensible Operating System (EOS).
According to a Reuters report, the jury found that Arista infringed some of Cisco's copyrights, but decided that Arista owes no damages to Cisco, based on a legal defense known as "scenes a faire." Cisco was seeking about $335 million in damages, Reuters reported. Arista said the jury also found that it didn't infringe a Cisco patent.
Chandler criticized the defense as a little-known principal that means "the jury excused Arista's copying because they believe that 'external factors' dictated the selection and arrangement of some infringed features." Cisco believes the jury misapplied or misunderstood "this narrow doctrine developed to make sure copyright infringement does not extend to using commonplace elements from literary works such as a plot device, a character or a setting."
"Arista copied despite the fact that other competitors have developed user interfaces in a wide variety of ways that do not copy," Chandler wrote. "Cisco’s user interface is well-known and successful, and while it has often been referred to as an 'industry standard' – meaning a popular benchmark – none of Cisco’s technology in this case has been incorporated in any actual industry standard; in fact, no CLI standards body actually exists."
Cisco will look to the federal judge to determine whether there was sufficient evidence to warrant the jury's conclusion, as well as other grounds for setting aside the verdict, he said.
The US Trade Commission, where Cisco also filed complaints against Arista, ruled in June that Arista violated three Cisco patents and ordered an import ban on Arista switches that infringed on those patents. Last week, the ITC decided that Arista infringed two other Cisco patents.
Last month, the US Customs and Border Protection agency told Arista that it could sell its redesigned products in the US, ruling that they don't fall within the scope of the ITC's import ban.
Martin Casado, general partner at VC powerhouse Andreessen Horowitz, tweeted that Wednesday's ruling in the Cisco-Arista case was "a massive industry win. Not just Arista. Good news."
Tom Nolle, president and founder of the consulting firm CIMI Corp., told me in an interview that he'd call the jury's decision, at a high level, a victory for functional innovation.
"Arista's claim was that if someone wants to drive a nail then a hammer is the appropriate instrument, and there are functional requirements that are set on something by the function itself," he said. "If you want to change a port parameter or do something to a router, a user would naturally think of those things in a certain way.
"If you do something in a way the user thinks, you're simply fulfilling market requirements, you're not innovating, and innovating should be the first requirement for any intellectual property protection," he added. "Otherwise, you're just implementing a thought that's been out in the marketplace all along."
Nolle said Cisco, like most market leaders, uses intellectual property claims as a means of protecting their market dominance. "I don't think something like this will stop them from doing that…. The further question down the line is how many of these kinds of defeats would they have to suffer before they have to decide it's not worth it litigating it."