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It's On: Cisco Accuses Arista Of 'Pervasive Copying' In New Lawsuit

In two lawsuits filed Friday, Cisco Systems accuses switching rival Arista Networks of 'repeated and pervasive copying' of both its technology and other copyrighted materials.

Cisco Systems on Friday filed two lawsuits against switching archrival Arista Networks, alleging Arista has infringed on a number of its patents and stolen Cisco copyrighted material.

The lawsuits, which Cisco General Counsel Mark Chandler detailed in a blog post Friday, have been filed with the Federal District Court for the Northern District of California.

The damages Cisco is seeking from Arista were unspecified.

[Related: Arista Partners: Our Business Is Booming As Competition With Cisco Heats Up]

"In the thirteen years I've been General Counsel of Cisco, I can count on one hand the number of times we've initiated a suit against a competitor, supplier or customer," Chandler wrote. "It's therefore only after thoughtful and serious consideration that we are today filing two lawsuits to stop Arista’s repeated and pervasive copying of key inventions in Cisco products."

Cisco is alleging that Arista -- whose president and CEO Jayshree Ullal was the former senior vice president of Cisco's data center switching business -- has stolen 12 "discrete and important" Cisco switching features, covered by 14 different U.S. patents, to use in its own products.

Chandler said in the blog that these features were patented either by former Cisco employees who are now at Arista, or current Cisco employees who worked with executives that are now at Arista.

In addition, Cisco is claiming Arista has lifted "entire sections" from Cisco's copyrighted user manuals – sometimes, with Cisco's original grammatical errors still intact – to include in its own documentation. Arista also stole more than 500 of Cisco's command-line expressions from its IOS network operating system to use in its own Arista EOS software, Cisco claims.

In his blog, Chandler said Arista has gone so far as to tout the similarities between its own products and Cisco's as a "key selling point" to customers. He referenced a 2013 quote from Ullal, stating: "[A] Cisco CCIE expert would be able to use Arista right away, because we have a similar command-line interface and operational look and feel."

In response to Cisco's suit on Friday, Ullall said in a statement that she is "disappointed in Cisco's tactics."

"It's not the Cisco I knew," she said.

Founded in 2004, Santa Clara, Calif.-based Arista has experienced rapid growth over the past few years, with some solution providers saying the company is actively displacing Cisco in deals.

An executive at one Arista Networks partner, who requested anonymity, said his company is just ramping up with Arista sales, but has already noticed a similarity between the two technologies. For that reason, he said, legacy Cisco customers have become a natural target for Arista and its partners.

"Everyone has always known how similar it is to Cisco. The Arista interface and command line doesn’t feel like a barrier to [customers]," the partner said. "So it will be really interesting to see how this all play outs."

In June, Arista raised $226 million in its initial public offering, and its shares jumped as high as 35 percent to roughly $57 when it made its public trading debut. The move put Arista's market cap at around $3.7 billion.

According to its IPO filing, Arista's revenue in 2013 grew 87 percent year-over-year, totaling $361.2 million. The company's profits, meanwhile, nearly doubled, growing from $21.3 million in 2012 to $42.5 million in 2013.

Arista's switches, which are based on merchant silicon and run a Linux-based OS, have been embraced especially by large service providers and Web 2.0 players like Facebook, who have emerged as early adopters of software-defined networking (SDN) and white-box switching technology.

Cisco, for its part, has seen its bread-and-butter switching and routing businesses come under pressure as the market continues its shift toward SDN.

Cisco last month said its routing business in the first quarter fell 4 percent year-over-year. Its switching business grew 3 percent, returning to growth after three consecutive quarters of decline.

During Cisco's first-quarter earnings call with analysts last month, Chambers stressed the progress Cisco and its Nexus line of switches has made against one of its top "merchant-based" switching competitors. While he didn't say it outright, it's more than likely Chambers was referencing Arista.

"In Q1, orders for Nexus 3000 and 9000 were approximately 50 percent larger than their reported total revenues, growing in excess of four times faster than their reported growth rates," Chambers said on the call. "Yet again, in just one year, we have blown by where they had gotten to in the whole history of their company."

According to Seeking Alpha, Arista is expected by analysts to see its revenue rise 33 percent next year to $765 million.

PUBLISHED DEC. 5, 2014

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