Arista Infringes Cisco Patents, Says Trade Commission

Agency recommends import ban of Arista switches violating Cisco private VLAN and SysDB patents.

Marcia Savage

June 27, 2016

3 Min Read
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The U.S. International Trade Commission ruled Thursday that Arista Networks violated three Cisco patents, upholding the initial ruling of a commission judge earlier this year and marking a major development in the legal battle between the fierce networking rivals.

Two of the patents cover Cisco's private VLAN network security technology, Cisco SVP, General Counsel and Secretary Mark Chandler, wrote in a blog post. The third covers Cisco's SysDB technology.

"This marks the end of Arista’s ability to mislead its shareholders and customers about the infringing nature of their products," he wrote.

The ITC ruling includes an order to ban import of Arista switches and other devices that infringe on Cisco's patents. The order takes effect in 60 days unless the U.S. Trade Representative does not approve it.

Cisco sued Arista in December 2014, claiming it stole intellectual property and copied its CLI commands. Arista countersued earlier this year, alleging that Cisco violated the Sherman Antitrust Act by encouraging use of its CLI commands, but suing companies that did so. Arista was founded in 2004 by several former Cisco executives.

Arista issued a statement Thursday saying that the ITC also decided that Arista did not infringe two of the five patents under investigation and noted that Cisco had previously dropped one patent from its claims. However, the company said it intends to comply fully with the ITC order regarding the other patents.

Arista had previously announced that it released a new version of its EOS software containing "design-arounds" it believes address the ITC's findings. Arista said it plans to seek regulatory approval for those design-arounds.

“Despite Cisco’s rhetoric claiming that the lawsuits are a defensive move to protect its intellectual property, these actions are clearly part of a broader effort to use litigation to preserve Cisco’s market position,” Marc Taxay, Senior Vice President, General Counsel for Arista, said in a statement. “If allowed to succeed, Cisco’s scheme would have a chilling effect on innovation. While we will defend our rights in these actions, our primary focus remains on the continued supply of products to our customers.”

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Arista said the U.S. Patent and Trademark Appeal Board has also recently instituted a review of certain Cisco patent claims to determine their validity.

In his blog, Cisco's Chandler said, "The right thing for Arista to do is to stop using Cisco’s patented technology, not to find ways to ship products to U.S. customers that they know infringe Cisco patents."

He said Cisco expects the ITC to issue an initial ruling in August regarding a different group of patents. Cisco's federal case against Arista is scheduled to go to trial in November.

Networking expert Tom Hollingsworth, who has blogged about the Cisco-Arista dispute for Network Computing, told me via email that Arista says it changed the way EOS agents communicate with SysDB so that the software no longer infringes on Cisco patents. Arista also says it will drop private VLAN support, which was used by less than 1% of its customer base, he said.

"Cisco appears to be gearing up to fight Arista on the EOS changes and get the exclusion order enforced to keep Arista from importing switches," Hollingsworth said. "This fight is far from over and August will see how these provisions are implemented."

About the Author(s)

Marcia Savage

Executive Editor, Network Computing

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