Arista Networks finally caught a break in its long legal battle against Cisco Systems. A federal court in Northern California denied Cisco’s demand for $335 million in damages and ruled Arista did not infringe a Cisco patent, nor Cisco’s copyright on its user manuals.
The main part of software in question was Cisco’s command line interface (CLI). Cisco argued that Arista, several of whose executives are former Cisco employees, illegally copied Cisco’s CLI right down to the typos. Arista claimed that the CLI is used by many of Cisco’s rivals, and that Cisco’s attack against Arista stems from personal enmity. Cisco originally filed the suit in 2014.
The decision stands in stark contrast to the ruling last week from the International Trade Commission (ITC) that Arista had violated two of Cisco’s patents, after previously ruling that Arista had violated three other patents. For a brief time, it even banned the import of Arista products into the U.S.
The jury ruled that Arista was protected by what’s called the ‘scenes a faire’ doctrine, a legal principle that says if there is no other way to make a product, the value of it cannot be attributed to the creator of the work. The company has been steadily gaining market share since it was founded in 2004, threatening Cisco’s position as undisputed leader of the networking world.
"Arista copied despite the fact that other competitors have developed user interfaces in a wide variety of ways that do not copy,” said Mark Chandler, general counsel and secretary of Cisco, in a blog post. “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."