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What happens next in the Cisco suit against Arista?

John Dix | Dec. 10, 2014
Arista Networks' stock took it on the chin when Cisco slapped the company with patent infringement and copyright law suits last Friday, losing almost 20% of its value at one point as investors and others mulled the long term implications of the suits.

Discovery and the claim construction phase, in which the judge asks for input from the parties and outlines certain key patent terms, can take about a year, he says. Using the Apple/Samsung trials as a gauge, which were filed in the same California district, Steenberg says these cases might start in 16 to 26 months.

Asked how dire a situation this could create for Arista, Steenburg says "the nuclear scenario would be for Cisco to get an injunction that prohibits Arista from selling the products in question." But at the very least, the cases are "certainly going to make life difficult" for Arista.

"The discovery process itself is not just expensive, but also time consuming and can sap morale," Steenburg says. "It stinks to have engineers and other employees being deposed or gathering documents instead of doing constructive work. That is often an unappreciated cost and risk of litigation."

Snyder says he thinks "Cisco has a legitimate beef. They may or may not prevail, but it opens up enough FUD to give the Cisco sales team something to use in competitive deals. Right now Cisco is fighting hard to keep its place in the enterprise, and one of their tools is pricing. If they can force others to have higher costs, either through engineering or litigation or both, then this is a competitive edge."

Should potential customers worry?   "I would counsel any client thinking of doing business with a company that has been sued for patent infringement to ask to be indemnified in case the company goes after them," Steenburg says. "That said, presumably Cisco does business with most of Arista's customers, so it would be unusual for Cisco to go after customers."

In the copyright suit Cisco says that, among other infringements, Arista has copied 500 of its multi-word command line instructions. While Google and others argue copyright protection shouldn't address interfaces, some observers see it otherwise.

"'Ip host' all by itself isn't copyrightable," writes Florian Mueller, an intellectual property activist with 25 years of software industry expertise in his blog Foss Patents, "Same with 'show inventory.' Arista could have copied one or two of those and Cisco couldn't complain if that were the case. But when one looks at the whole list of 500 multi-word commands, many of which truly involve creative choices (for example, 'show ip igmp snooping querier' or 'spanning-tree potfast bpdufilter default'), the threshold for copyrightability is easily met."


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