Earlier today, the US Customs and Border Protection seized what it calls “2,000 counterfeit Apple Airpod Earbuds” from the cargo facility at the John F. Kennedy International Airport that came from Hong Kong and was headed for Nevada. The seizure was labeled as a “direct reflection of the vigilance and commitment to mission success by our CBP Officers daily.” The official CBP Twitter handle even tweeted its latest success story with pictures of the “counterfeit AirPods.” As soon as it happened, an online furor that was loaded with ridicule erupted because the goods seized by the US customs were not the cheap knock-offs that you can easily find on Amazon or a local electronics shop. Instead, they were OnePlus Buds – genuine wireless earbuds launched by a well-known Chinese company.
The OnePlus Buds are already available to buy in the US, which raises the question as to why they were seized. On the surface, it appears to be a mistake at differentiating a legal product from another one that is heavily copied in the counterfeit market. However, some are questioning whether it was a deliberate attempt to generate some political heat by seizing products of a Chinese company at a time when US-China trade relations are strained. But the response of the agency is simply bewildering. In a statement given to The Verge, the US CBP mentioned that the seized OnePlus Buds violate Apple’s AirPods trademarks when it comes to their general appearance.
“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,” an agency spokesperson was quoted as saying. “Based on that determination, CBP officers at JFK Airport have seized the shipment under 19 USC 1526 (e).” In case you are wondering, configuration trademark laws cover the goods that are identical or substantially indistinguishable from a genuine trademarked product. Well, the OnePlus Buds do look a bit like the AirPods, but they are not knock-offs by any means, neither are they identical or substantially indistinguishable and are legally sold without trademark violation in the US and elsewhere in the world.