Lawsuit alleges Palm computers can damage PCs

A California law firm has filed suit against Palm Inc. and its former parent company 3Com Corp., claiming that a feature used to synchronize data between Palm’s handheld computers and a PC can cause damage to PCs.

The suit, filed Tuesday in San Francisco Superior Court by Pinnacle Law Group LLP, alleges that Palm and 3Com failed to warn users that the so-called HotSync feature in Palm computers could damage certain models of PCs, resulting in users needing to buy a new motherboard for their computer.

Palm declined to comment, saying it had not yet seen the lawsuit.

The suit was filed on behalf of two California Palm owners, and seeks class action status for other users in the United States who bought certain models of the Palm V and Palm Vx and who may have been affected by the problem. The allegedly defective Palms were sold since 1999, and the law firm estimates that “hundreds of thousands” of users were affected.

The lawsuit seeks unspecified monetary damages and an injunction requiring Palm to warn users that its PDAs (personal digital assistants) can harm their PCs.

One analyst said that if the allegations were true, it would be the first time he had heard of a serial port being damaged by a device attached to it. “If this is true, it sounds like there’s some sort of hardware design problem in the cradle,” speculated Chris Le Tocq, principal analyst with Palo Alto, Calif.-based Guernsey Research.

“I wouldn’t call it impossible, but at the very least extremely unusual,” he added.

Specifically, the suit charges that the HotSync feature can disable the serial port on certain brands of PCs, resulting in the user needing to buy a new motherboard. The suit doesn’t specify which brands of PCs allegedly are affected, and the attorneys filing the suit didn’t immediately return calls.

Palm, in Santa Clara, Calif., is at 3Com, in Santa Clara, Calif., can be reached at