HPE And HP Throw Support Behind Arista In Vicious Legal Battle With Cisco

Hewlett Packard Enterprise and Hewlett Packard are publicly supporting Arista Networks in its contentious legal battle with Cisco. The nearly three-year long legal saga between the networking rivals has resulted in the ban of importation and sale of some of Arista's network products, including switches, into the United States.

"Don't be fooled, [HPE] has a big investment in Arista and these lawsuits could hurt them down the line if Cisco ultimately wins in one way or another," said one top executive from a solution provider and longtime HPE partner, who declined to be identified.

Arista has filed an emergency appeal with the Federal Circuit to repeal the sales and import ban, citing a decision by the Patent Trial and Appeal Board (PTAB) that found Cisco's patents in the case invalid.

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On Sept. 1, the Unified Patents organization officially filed an amici brief joined by HPE, HP and several other companies, including consumer electronics vendor Vizio and Cable Technology Laboratories, to the Federal Circuit saying it was in the public's best interest to promote "fair and free competition."

Although the PTAB found Cisco's patents invalid, the International Trade Commission (ITC) left the ban in place pending a full review.

"The public interest is disserved by enforcement of invalid patent claims," said the brief. "The ITC's obligation to consider the impact of its powerful remedies on the public interest, limited exclusion orders should be suspended, rescinded." The failure to consider PTAB's decision is "inequitable and improper," according to the brief.

In a statement to CRN, Cisco said it's a "strong champion" of the PTAB's work, "but the ITC got it right keeping the import and sales bans in place based on the unique facts."

"Not only did the ITC find Cisco's patents valid and infringed after a full trial, but Arista prevented the PTAB from considering a complete record, including what the ITC characterized as Arista's 'culture of copying Cisco.'"

Both HPE and Arista declined to comment on the matter.

In September 2016, HPE and Arista formed a strategic software-defined infrastructure partnership and sales pact with Arista. Under the terms of the pact, Arista will be HPE's preferred networking partner in data center networking as an infrastructure foundation for HPE's software-defined infrastructure offerings. HPE, which already had a converged architecture agreement with Arista, allowed solution providers and customers the ability to buy the Arista network switching products directly from HPE.

"If this ban continues and Cisco in some form wins this … Who knows what that will mean for the HP-Arista partnership?" said the solution provider executive.

The legal dispute dates back to December 2014, when Cisco filed several lawsuits against Arista alleging the vendor infringed on multiple Cisco patents.

Arista has been creating new versions of products, such as its flagship EOS software, that have technology workarounds in the areas highlighted in the patent litigation. Several of Arista's leaders, including CEO Jayshree Ullal and co-founder Andy Bechtolsheim, were previously top Cisco executives before joining Arista.