A US Customs and Border Protection spokesperson has defended the agency’s seizure of 2,000 pairs of OnePlus Buds at JFK airport on 31 August and then making the mistake of bragging about it to the press.
It described the OnePlus Buds, which have been on sale in the US for weeks as “counterfeit Apple AirPods”. It seemed like a possible gaffe by border officers who somehow didn’t realize they were blocking a genuine product, but it turned out that it was deliberate.
“Upon examining the shipment in question, a CBP import specialist determined that the subject earbuds violated Apple’s configuration trademark. Apple has configuration trademarks on their brand of earbuds, and has recorded those trademarks with CBP”, the spokesperson said. Configuration trademarks cover the general appearance of a product, if you were wondering. “Based on that determination, CBP officers at JFK Airport have seized the shipment under 19 USC 1526 (e).”
The CBP spokesperson said that a company does not have to put an ‘Apple’ wordmark or design on their products to violate these trademarks.
OnePlus “will have many opportunities through the adjudication process to provide evidence that their product does not violate the relevant recorded trademarks”, according to the CBP spokesperson.
However, the seizure raises some tricky issues. Apple hasn’t taken any legal action against OnePlus over the OnePlus Buds, and the earbuds remain for sale from OnePlus and many US retailers including B&H Photo. Of course, Apple does not have to take any action at all if it has publicly paid enforcers doing its dirty work. God help anyone who tries to import a rounded rectangle into the US.