Last night, the US Customs and Border Patrol Agency announced a seizure of 2,000 pairs of OnePlus Buds on the grounds that they were counterfeit AirPods. A hilarious mistake, we all thought, but it seems there’s more to the story. Now, US Customs claims that OnePlus Buds actually violate Apple’s AirPods trademark.
A statement released to The Verge this afternoon by the US Customs and Border Patrol Agency (CBP) seems to rule out that this seizure was a mistake. Rather, CBP claims that the earbuds violated Apple’s configuration trademark.
Upon examining the shipment in question, a CBP import specialist determined that the subject earbuds appeared to violate Apple’s configuration trademark. Apple has configuration trademarks on their brand of earbuds, and has recorded those trademarks with CBP. Based on that determination, CBP officers at JFK Airport have seized the shipment under 19 USC 1526 (e).
CBP’s seizure of the earbuds in question is unrelated to the images or language on the box. A company does not have to put an ‘Apple’ wordmark or design on their products to violate these trademarks. The importer will have many opportunities through the adjudication process to provide evidence that their product does not violate the relevant recorded trademarks.
Shenzhen-based OnePlus launched its true wireless Buds in July, promising more than seven hours of continuous use (between charging-case top ups) for only $79 significantly lower than Apple’s AirPods, which start at $159. There is no word on what led Customs and Border Protection to impound 2,000 OnePlus Buds (which amount to $158,000), other than their general resemblance to Cupertino’s popular headphones.
The largest federal law enforcement agency in the US Department of Homeland Security, CBP is tasked with enforcing intellectual property rights including suspected fraud and illegal trade activity. These “high-risk areas,” according to the agency, can cause significant revenue loss, harm the US economy, or threaten the health and safety of American people. Or, they can lead to a very public, very embarrassing mix up.