Regarding intelectual property Cisco seems far more advanced on hardware level, so obtaining gear from competitor is not really going to move things forward. Article also does not mention (unless I missed it) obtaining equipment which is in developement.
The best way for commercial spying is information exchanged by people - engineers from all those networking Silicon Valley companies know each other, they gossip, they betray secrets. This is how most of information leaks through, straight from the sources, not via reverse-engineering.
You can be also completely sure that Juniper bought Cisco equipment for the same purposes, and so did other companies. Even TFA mentions Alcatel-Lucent buying Cisco. It was an all-out activity.
Actually, Cisco used to be a front runner with more advanced network products. However, more and more network vendors, such as Juniper and Aruba, have caught up and passed Cisco. For example, while Juniper routers aren't as well known in the enterprise space, they are used heavily in the ISP and cloud provider space.
The one area where Cisco still has an edge is the ability to centralize management of all of their devices. Practically every network management solution provider supports Cisco. This will change as Juniper becomes more popular in the Enterprise, but it just isn't there yet.
The article did mention Cisco buying Beta gear. This is usually the last stage before release. It must have been a Beta unit to show customers for the VAR to be able to get their hands on it.