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We have chosen to dedicate a substantial post to this topic since it is an important issue affecting Cisco and many other companies as online communications continue to evolve.

Our recent experiences have shown us that as corporate blogging becomes more prevalent, new questions arise about transparency and etiquette. Corporate blogging is an important vehicle for two-way dialogue and communications, and it is a vehicle we are committed to utilizing here at Cisco. Most recently, we’ve learned some important lessons and through this blog post, hope our learnings add value to those participating in this important new media.

Policy Change

Cisco today is amending its policy on employee blogging. These changes follow the disclosure by a Cisco employee that he had authored an anonymous blog commenting on various policy and legal matters with which the company has been involved and on which he worked. In addition, Cisco employees who knew he was the author circulated links to the blog without revealing that a Cisco employee authored the blog.

The company believes strongly in employees’ right to freedom of expression, online and elsewhere. At the same time, we expect our employees, when commenting on matters related to Cisco’s business, to exercise that freedom in a manner consistent with Cisco’s corporate values of transparency and integrity. Therefore, we have evolved our employee blogging policy to expressly address:

The revised blogging policy will include the following clause, to take effect immediately:

“If you comment on any aspect of the company’s business or any policy issue the company is involved in where you have responsibility for Cisco’s engagement, you must clearly identify yourself as a Cisco employee in your postings or blog site(s) and include a disclaimer that the views are your own and not those of Cisco. In addition, Cisco employees should not circulate postings that they know are written by other employees without informing the recipient that the source was within Cisco.”

Background

A lawyer in Cisco’s intellectual property department, Rick Frenkel, created the Patent Troll Tracker blog. Rick started his anonymous blog in May 2007, writing frequently and broadly on patents and presenting relevant data related to patent litigation, an area currently of great public interest, in which Cisco also has an interest. He identified himself as the author of the blog in a posting on his site on February 23, 2008. Once his authorship became public, confusion was created between Rick’s views and Cisco’s views on various patent issues discussed in his blog.

What We Learned

As we have investigated this issue, there are clear lessons we have learned. There are two very distinct issues in this situation that have been instructive:

  1. No one from Cisco edited Rick’s anonymous postings or required him to write on any topic, no one in his chain of command beyond his immediate supervisor knew that he was the author of Troll Tracker, and Rick intended that the blog solely reflect his opinions. However, given that Rick worked on intellectual property matters for Cisco, Rick’s relationship to Cisco should have been made clear and Cisco takes responsibility for the content of the blog.
  2. We believe that a few Cisco employees used poor judgment when they suggested topics to Rick for his anonymous blog or pointed third parties to the blog without disclosing that the content was created by a Cisco employee. These are not appropriate communications activities for Cisco employees and are inconsistent with our values and principles.

These shortcomings began innocently – with Rick’s desire for personal anonymity and Cisco employees’ desire to disseminate useful information while respecting Rick’s anonymity. But eventually this opened the door for a perception that Cisco somehow had something to hide. Cisco is committed to transparency in our communications and in the relationships we have with all of our constituencies, and we regret that this situation occurred.

Moving Forward

We are committed to our policy of allowing our employees appropriate online expression. As an employee, Rick is free to continue his personal blog, Patent Troll Tracker, in compliance with the revised policy. Rick has many fans who appreciate the information he collects and disseminates on patent litigation trends and recognize his blog as an important voice in the on-going national dialogue on patent issues. Blogging and blog policy are evolving areas for many companies. We believe we have learned a valuable lesson from this regrettable situation. Our goal now is to bring further clarity to our employees in the area of online communication, and our hope is that others will learn from this experience as well.

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16 Comments.


  1. I agree with your employee blogging policy……….most other large companies have similar policies and they have worked out quite well.

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  2. Whats the stance with the network world top 20 cisco related websites/blogs, ie, the CCIE blogs, NAC and MARS blogs?

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  3. That the word roll”” is still being used here demonstrates that perhaps no lesson at all has or will be learned. In many if not most cases, the word troll is simply a derogatory term for a patentee asserting a legitimate government granted right in good faith. Particularly given that, Peter Detkin, the individual most often credited with coinage of the term troll has renounced it, the use of such pejoratives to describe patentees seeking redress denigrates the entire patent bar and identifies the user as somewhat unenlightened. Promotion of the concept of a troll by a company with deep involvement in patent issues offends every active patent attorney. I think Mr. Frenkel and others who are fond of the term troll owe the patent bar an apology. I daresay, from here forward, Cisco will have a difficult time asserting any patent rights it may choose to assert.”

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  4. Firstly, I am glad Cisco is and does what they do in this day and age. I am a blogger who does the same thing as your lawyer, Rick (but not the same topics – although I will cover controversial topics). However, I believe you are overreaching your potential for constructive blogs and other forums to be provided by requiring overtness of identities in this form in the workplace.Although I do understand that there are legal liabilities of concern, it is somewhat excessive to require someone to expressly state that their opinions are not Cisco’s, as they never expressly stated that their opinions do represent Cisco, nor would it easily be implied in the court of law especially for defamation. Beyond that we all know that patent trolls are of a very litigious in nature, and settling this lawsuit outside of court would logically incite other patent trolls to file suit as well.

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  5. It is understandable that patent trollophiles like Mr. Riley oppose the major corporate patent players like Cisco. But he apparently doesn’t have a clue what the EDTX (Banana Republic) SLAPP suits are all about. Irrespective of any position or tactic taken by Cisco in the patent market place, you and Rick have my admiration in opposing the these lawyers’ attempts to choke off first amendment free speech. I might note the irony that usually it’s the other way around — it’s the deep pockets trying to stifle criticism by individuals. Babel Boy

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  6. Richard Cauley

    So, is Trolltracker coming back? I, for one, miss it — it was the best blog out there on patent litigation, period.

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  7. Thanks for sharing these lessons-learned; it’s valuable input for many of us. And I applaud Cisco’s focus on transparency and openness.A question comes to mind as I read the text of your new policy. May employees still blog anonymously, as long as the indicate their relationship to Cisco?I’m interested in understanding how Cisco views the balance between personal privacy (i.e. anonymity) and the responsibility for disclosure. Any insight you share would be appreciated.Full Disclosure: I am employed by Savvis, Inc. (http://www.savvis.net), which is a Cisco customer. Any views expressed in this message are my own and not those of my employer.

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  8. Stealing others’ property is bad behavior! Conducting anonymous smear campaigns against inventors and their partners is bad behavior! PIAUSA members are confident that the “Banana Republic” courts will deal with Cisco in a manner appropriate for their conduct.Cisco claims “We believe we have learned a valuable lesson from this regrettable situation.”Here is an inventor’s perspective. I am certain that Cisco has not learned the lesson they should be learning but confident that as the stakes are raised that they will learn. In my opinion the lesson they need to learn is to operate as RESPONSIBLE corporate citizens who fairly compensate those who produce the inventions which Cisco needs to function in their market. They need to look at the inventors as valued partners and embrace them. They need to acquire patent properties before they incorporate them into products.Cisco and other Piracy Coalition members need to recognize that today’s inventor community is much more organized than it was twenty years ago. The reality is that companies like Cisco have failed to understand this and as a result are receiving attitude adjustments for their conduct. Their response has been to smear the good names of inventors rather than changing their approach to use of other’s patent properties.Deep pockets go a long way towards shaping public opinion as evidenced by the troll campaign. But the flip side is that inventors are no longer operating in isolation. We are sharing information and we are working in concert to see justice served.We have Cisco’s number. Has it occurred to anyone that Cisco is getting sued because they have a big appetite for other’s patent property and a big ego that gets in the way of acquiring the rights to the patent properties they need to succeed in the market?Could the reason that Cisco has seen its litigation increase by an order of magnitude be that they are taking liberties with an increasing number of other’s patent properties?Have you considered that Cisco gets sued after they have refused a legitimate offer for a license? Inventors do not like litigation, but in the face of Is it possible that Cisco’s entitlement mentality has led them down the wrong path, a path where greed and ego trumps ethics?Or have you considered that Cisco’s membership in the Coalition for Patent fairness and PIRACY, aka. the Piracy Coalition is a good indication that birds of a feather do flock together?Some companies start as inventors, and some start as parasites on those who have invented. I believe that Cisco is a parasite. Eventually they end up alike, one group never being inventive and the second losing the ability to invent as they age. Both will try to substitute quantity in patent filing for the quality of inventions they are incapable of producing. It does not work.All Piracy Coalition members fit one of these profiles. Tech companies who are past their prime, insurance and banking collectively have no shame! What they very good at producing is innovative media hype which obfuscates the reality of their existence. Their multi-million dollar “troll” campaign is a perfect example of this. They paint their victims as “trolls” while the courts are finding their conduct so egregious that they are handing down staggering judgments which are generally being upheld by higher courts. This is what happens to those who are caught lying, cheating, and stealing and no amount of public relations painting their victims as evil “trolls” can change the facts of these cases.Personally I think that it is a shame that Piracy Coalition members have failed to learn the lesson that inventors and the courts are teaching. It is all about conducting one’s business in an ethical manner!Ronald J. Riley,Speaking only on my own behalf.Affiliations:President – http://www.PIAUSA.org – RJR at PIAUSA.orgExecutive Director – http://www.InventorEd.org – RJR at InvEd.orgSenior Fellow – http://www.patentPolicy.orgPresident – Alliance for American InnovationCaretaker of Intellectual Property Creators on behalf of deceased founder Paul HeckelWashington, DCDirect (202) 318-1595 – 9 am to 9 pm EST. Cisco Note: Response from Jeanette Gibson, Director of New Media: We are always happy to engage in policy debates and discuss the merits of our positions. For Cisco’s position on patent reform, please see our Global Policy and Government Affairs site: http://www.cisco.com/web/about/gov/markets/patent_reform.html

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  9. Great post. I didn’t know the story, but I sure appreciate Cisco outing this situation and publicly sharing changes your undertaking to ensure alignment with company values and policies while still respecting the importance of this new communication medium.sean

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  10. Great post. I didn’t know the story, but I sure appreciate Cisco outing this situation and publicly sharing changes your undertaking to ensure alignment with company values and policies while still respecting the importance of this new communication medium.

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  11. Keep up your great work. Thanks.cisco’s policy makes complete sense. I am very surprised that the employee was so open about obviously proprietary information. It makes no sense why an employee felt empowered to discuss such information and other employees felt empowered to not disclose the authors name. Free speech is one thing but discussing proprietary company information is holy another.Also i agree with that.

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  12. I think Cisko must protect they business interests and to post blog comments with Cisco’s corporate values of transparency and integrity is a right idea.

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  13. I think it is good to have employees blogging, this way they can express themselves freely but it should still be in a tight group so that others may not be able to misuse the information.

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  14. corporate over reach again, but actually much more understanding than many.

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  15. If I were a CEO of company X, surely I wouldn’t want my employees blogging or not even talking about company policies with their wives or friends.I believe the following paragraph says it all. The fact that Cisco acknowledges the ‘freedom of speech’ yet the importance of ‘keeping inside stuff inside’ should be appreciatedThe company believes strongly in employees’ right to freedom of expression, online and elsewhere. At the same time, we expect our employees, when commenting on matters related to Cisco’s business, to exercise that freedom in a manner consistent with Cisco’s corporate values of transparency and integrity.

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  16. It’d be interesting to know exactly what occurred, rather than just “human error”.

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