Arista CEO Jayshree Ullal has torn into rival Cisco, calling an intellectual property lawsuit against Arista a "smear campaign" but conceding one accusation.
"I'm feeling both blindsided and disappointed on one level, because this is not the Cisco I knew," Ullal said at the Barclays 2014 Global Technology Conference on Tuesday. (You can listen to the audio of the presentation and see the slides here.) Ullal was formerly a senior VP at Cisco.
"But somebody told me a lawsuit is the most sincere form of flattery. So I guess I'm flattered," Ullal added.
Cisco Systems Inc. (Nasdaq: CSCO) filed copyright and patent litigation Friday, charging Arista Networks Inc. with "repeated and pervasive copying of key inventions in Cisco products." The lawsuits charge Arista knowingly includes features in its products violating Cisco's intellectual property rights. (See Cisco Slams Arista With Massive Patent & Copyright Suit.)
Cisco hasn't faced "a disruptive competitor like Arista in probably 15 years," Ullal said. The most recent routing and switching IPO prior to Arista's was Juniper in 1999. "So I understand that they must be feeling a little bit of discomfort" that former "top engineers and executives" built a competing company and "execute and build a great product."
Arista's leadership team includes many former Cisco executives and engineers -- a point Cisco noted prominently in announcing the lawsuit last week.
The lawsuit "was run more like a political campaign than a lawsuit," Ullal said. She learned about it Thursday night from a call from a journalist, followed by the Cisco blog post Friday, finally getting served with one of the claims five days later, on Tuesday, before Ullal spoke at the Barclays conference.
Addressing the claims, Ullal conceded one point, that Arista did indeed copy Cisco's documentation. "This is something that is completely unacceptable to me" even though "less than 1% has been copied." Arista is "taking care of the individual and personnel" responsible, Ullal said.
"I own up to it. It was a mistake. I apologize to Cisco for it. We're going to fix it in a week," Ullal said.
As to the claim that Arista infringed Cisco's command line interface, Ullal said, "I don't know if you can copyright the keyboard, or the mouse, or a network command line interface that's been around for 25, 30 years." She cited similar cases involving Lotus and Borland. "Can you, as a company, copyright English or the syntax? Should we have done the syntax in German or Hindi to be different?" Ullal said.
Arista "openly built an industry specific CLI that Cisco in their own documentation refers to as industry specific CLI. Right? It's industry-wide. It's been around long before Cisco was founded," Ullal said.
As to the third set of claims, that Arista infringed 14 patents, Ullal said: "I will have to look at each one in detail to answer that," Ullal said. "But Cisco has a patent portfolio, they say, of 13,000, so they looked hard to find these." At least some of the claims are over terminology, with Cisco and Arista using the same words to describe different technologies.
Arista will "review all these facts, and do the right thing as we have always done at Arista," Ullal said, adding they will "deal with this smear campaign."
Arista's customers are "shocked and surprised" about the lawsuit. Customers look to both Arista and Cisco for products, and "some of our customers are questioning Cisco's tactics," and their own use of Cisco technology, "because tomorrow if a customer develops a CLI," will Cisco sue the customer too?
"Having said that, the enterprise customer, who is more risk-averse, is going to ask Arista more questions. So time will tell if Cisco planted this largely to slow down our momentum, and saw our clean balance sheets, and wanted us to spend our legal fees on something." But "smart customers ... understand what's going on and are very supportive, and very understanding of Arista's pioneering innovation, and what we started, and who mimicked who."
Ullal also took a shot at one of Cisco's trademarks, for the Application Centric Infrastructure: "ACI, for our customers, stands for 'All Cisco Infrastructure,'" she said. ACI is a "proprietary lock" where Arista provides open networks. That said, Cisco does well for traditional enterprise customers, but hypercloud networks require the programmability and openness that Arista provides, Ullal said. (See Cisco's ACI Gets Physical With SDN.)
We asked Cisco to respond to Ullal's comments after the event. A spokesman responded: "Our General Counsel's blog and the suits speak for themselves. Cisco believes to compete in technology, you need to innovate, not copy. We take our innovation very seriously and will protect it." The blog post is here.
Unhappily for Arista, the Cisco litigation steals focus from a big product announcement, the EOS+ software platform, enhancing programmability for Arista's switches, announced Wednesday. EOS+ is intended to allow network operators to build more flexible networks using DevOps techniques. EOS+ allows networks to use off-the-shelf and custom network applications, including software from partners. (See Arista Gets With the Programmability Program.)