In a statement to The Verge, a US Customs and Border Protection spokesperson has defended the agency’s seizure of 2,000 pairs of OnePlus Buds at JFK airport on August 31st. Last night, CBP publicized the action and described the OnePlus Buds as “counterfeit Apple AirPods,” which set off a wave of controversy. It seemed like a possible gaffe by border officers who somehow didn’t realize they were blocking a genuine product, and OnePlus has also been mocked for even finding itself in this situation, thanks to the similarities between its own earbuds and AirPods.
But CBP’s statement seems to rule out this being a mistake. What remains unanswered is why the OnePlus Buds drew such scrutiny — weeks after they had already gone on sale in the US — when the market is flooded with AirPods knockoffs. Walk into Best Buy, Walmart, or go take a look on Amazon, and they’re everywhere.
“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,” 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 also tried to address the common response that many people have had to this incident: couldn’t their officers tell that the OnePlus Buds were a genuine product (and not a “counterfeit” posing as AirPods) just by looking at the box and branding? “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.”
OnePlus (or whoever imported the OnePlus Buds) “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. Reached earlier today, OnePlus declined to comment on the seizure. The company declined again after seeing the CBP statement.
It’s important to note that Apple itself 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. You can still get them without issue, and it’s unclear whether CBP plans to seize future shipments.