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News for nerds

Would you be able to tell the difference between OnePlus Buds and Apple AirPods? What about if they were in a clearly labeled box that said they were OnePlus Buds? Well, apparently, US customs officials can’t since they seem proud of themselves that they seized 2,000 of them thinking they were counterfeit AirPods.
Update (Sept 15): The CBP has issued a statement confirming the seizure, and explaining that the shipment violates Apple’s trademarks. Read the exact wording below:

“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 said. “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.”

On September 11, the US Customs and Border Protection (CBP) agency announced it had seized a shipment of “counterfeit” Apple AirPods from China to the United States. It estimated the street value of the contraband to be around $398,000.

“That’s not an [apple],” a braggadocious Sunday tweet from the CBP read. “CBP officers at JFK Airport recently seized 2,000 counterfeit Apple AirPods from Hong Kong, valued at $398K had they been genuine.” Unfortunately, the agency was too quick to start patting itself on the back because all it got right was that the shipment was from China and that the earbuds were not an Apple product.

According to the CBP images included with its tweet and press release, it was a legitimate OnePlus Buds shipment. One might forgive agents for mistaking the devices for AirPod knockoffs due to their similar design. They are just different enough from AirPods to avoid a design patent lawsuit from Apple, but what is harder to fathom the agency’s complete ignorance of the clearly labeled “OnePlus Buds—White” packaging.

Troy Miller, the head of the New York division of the CBP, where the shipment was seized, ironically praised his agents’ “vigilance” in a statement.

“CBP Officers are protecting the American public from various dangers on a daily basis,” said Troy Miller, Director of CBP’s New York Field Operations. “The interception of these counterfeit earbuds is a direct reflection of the vigilance and commitment to mission success by our CBP Officers daily.”

Of course, Twitter users quickly picked up on the crazy mistake and retweeted the post along with their snarky remarks. My favorite, “Thank you, CBP… For keeping the streets safe from OnePlus Buds.”

OnePlus Buds retail for about $80, so the CBP’s estimate of the value of the 2,000-unit shipment was also grossly exaggerated. Worth only about $158,000, the crates of OnePlus Buds were nowhere close to the near $400,000 the CBP estimated. Although in its defense, it did genuinely think they were fake AirPods.

Even though the CBP’s faux pas was quickly pointed out, the agency has doubled down on the seizure, per the statement at the top of the article.