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Lenovo Inc. yesterday issued a recall of some 205,000 ThinkPad laptop batteries because the units could overheat and potentially catch fire if dropped or struck.

The recall involves extended-life nine-cell lithium batteries manufactured by Japanese electronic firm Sanyo Electric Co. Ltd. in its factory in China.

So far, the global computer company said, it has received five reports of incidents related to the units in question. Four of the incidents occurred in the U.S. and one in Europe. No serious injuries or major damage to property were reported, according to Lenovo. So far, the Chinese PC maker headquartered in Research Triangle Park, N.C. said it has received five reports of incidents related to the units in question. Four of the incidents occurred in the U.S. and one in Europe.

No serious injuries or major damage to property were reported, according to Lenovo.

“One person suffered eye irritation when smoke came out of the overheating battery. In another incident people noticed smoke escaping from a backpack that contained a laptop,” said Ray Gormam, executive director, external communications for Lenovo (United States) Inc. of North Carolina.

A notice issued by the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC), said the the batteries could have been installed as original equipment, optional units of replacement packs for the following ThinkPad notebooks:

• R60 and R60e Series

• T60 and T60p Series

• Z60m, Z61e, Z61m and Z61p Series

Lenovo said only the extended-life nine-cell battery pack with part number FRU P/N 92P1131 is being recalled. About 100,000 of the batteries were distributed in the U.S. and another 105,000 were sold worldwide.

Lenovo is offering free replacement batteries.

Canadian Lenovo customers can call Lenovo’s PC Help Centre at 1-800-565-3344 or 416-383-3344. Customers in other location can call 1-800-426-7378. For more information on the recall also visit www.lenovo.com/batteryprogram or http://lenovo.com/thinkpad/wwphonelist.

Gorman said the problem is different from that which caused laptop batteries distributed by Sony to overheat last year .

The 2006 recall of some 10 million lithium ion batteries installed in various brands of notebook computers was traced to contaminants in the battery cell that caused the units to overheat, according to Gorman. In some instances battery packs exploded in flames.

“In this case, a particularly combination of events have to occur to trigger overheating of the battery,” said Keith Matulich, representative of Sanyo Energy (USA) Corp.

He said initial investigation revealed that the battery had to be “dropped or struck with a significant amount of force at a particular corner of the unit” in order for it to malfunction.

“It’s a design problem concerning the battery pack not the cell itself.”

Sanyo is financially supporting Lenovo with the recall but neither companies would disclosed how much it thinks the battery call back will cost them.

At least one Canadian analyst said the financial burden on both companies would not be as serious as those suffered by Sony last year.

“This is not going to have the same impact to Sanyo and Lenovo because it is still a fairly small recall,” said Carmi Levy, senior analyst for research firm Info-Tech Group Inc. of London, Ont.

Levy said Sony was estimated to have spent over $527 million in replacing its defective batteries. “Their reputation took a hit and profits crashed. They attributed 95 per cent of the decline to the recall.”

The recurring incidents of igniting laptop batteries also fanned the flames last year for calls for more stringent regulations and quality control.

But yesterday, Matulich said the battery manufacturing industry does have adequate measures to ensure the quality of products that enter the market. “If you look at the number of batteries shipped worldwide, the units recalled still constitute a small percentage of the total production.”

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