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Fowler Associates Labs



Static Fire Stories Articles & Technical Papers Current News

Palm Inc. Sued for ESD


Vanessa Hua of the San Francisco Chronicle reported that Palm, Inc. has been sued for ESD problems. The lawsuit, filed in August in San Francisco County Superior Court, claimed the function that allows people to synchronize the data of the mobile device to their PCs "damages or destroys the motherboards on certain PC brands."The suit did not specify which Palm models were allegedly defective or what kinds of PCs were affected. The Pinnacle Law Group of San Francisco, which filed the suit on behalf of California residents Melissa Connelly and Laurence Stanton, seeks class-action status.

ESD Journal's attempts to obtain comments from the Santa Clara based Palm, Inc., which has sold more than 13.7 million of its devices, have been unsuccessful.

Steve Fowler of Fowler Associates, Inc.,an ESD Consulting firm, stated that his company has received reports of ESD problems with handheld devices such as audio players and PDA'a. The problem of static electricity with handheld devices is growing. As devices become faster, grow smaller and more sophisticated so does their sensitivity and therefore their vulnerability. Some of the problems have been discomfort to the user such as discharges to the ear of an MP3 player user. Others have been damage to the PDA or the computer to which it may be connected. Mr. Fowler stated that any heldheld device by being carried builds a static charge as the user moves and walks. Then when it is plugged in its cradle, a static discharge or ESD event may take place. Some handheld audio devices have been reported to have severe ESD events to the user's ear from the earphones. This is similar to the case reorted by Call Center operators. Shock in the Call Center

Users claim, in Palm's case, that touching the PDA in the cradle causes an ESD event to go through the cable to the desktop computer's serial port. This may damage the serial port and can cause the computer to restart unexpectedly or be unable to connect with peripherals.

The lawsuit was filed by Pinnacle Law Group in San Francisco. It alleges that Palm did not disclose that consumers would have to replace computers damaged during the synchronization process or that they might need to purchase protective devices to minimize static electricity. The suit claims there are are hundreds of thousands of purchasers of defective PDA's.

Many of the PDA users are already convinced that static electricity is the culprit.

Ms Hua reported the following user comments:

"It's supposed to be a device that makes life less stressful, but it got me all worked up about it," said Emily Clouthier, 19, a junior at the University of Michigan who says a static charge that passed through her Palm damaged her Dell computer in December. The material science major had to replace her computer's motherboard. She is not a part of the Palm suit, although she contacted Pinnacle to learn more about the alleged problem.

Stephen Wise, a San Francisco accountant, said he smelled smoke and heard a crackle of static after putting his Palm Vx in the cradle. Wise claims his computer was damaged, forcing him to replace his PC during the busy tax season. "They (Palm's customer service) said they never heard of anything like that, " Wise said.

On the Palm Web site, this customer info sheet was posted a few months ago:

"Mobile devices build up ESD in a unique way simply because consumers may have static electricity built up on their body, which is automatically passed to the device they are carrying," the site reads. "When they dock that device, a discharge event can occur passing the charge to the computer system." Another Palm fact sheet goes on to say that the company meets all standards for static electricity protection, and that consumers should contact the computer manufacturer if they suspect damage to the PC.

Ms. Hua also reported that every so often, Clif Overcash felt a shock when he touched the metal casing of his Palm Vx after he rolled his chair across the carpet. On the advice of a tech-savvy friend, Overcash tried to ground himself by touching the metal molding of his office windows before putting his PDA in the cradle. Then, in April of this year, the Fort Worth, Texas, real-estate investor discovered his Palm no longer could communicate with his Dell computer. He replaced the motherboard of his PC, later installed a plastic static guard sent from Palm, and then bought an adapter to connect the cradle via the USB port. That solved the problem for a while, but now his Palm cannot synchronize again. "There's a lot of finger pointing going on. I don't know whose problem it is," Overcash said.

The user of a handheld device should not be responsible for its ESD protection. Manufacturers should make their devices able to work in the environment for which it is intended. Early PDA's had static-electricity problems. Several companies who make PDA's have made efforts at solving these problems.


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