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Hot Wheels, Barbie PCs Missing Under Trees This Holiday

TIMES STAFF WRITER

Thousands of consumers expecting a Barbie or Hot Wheels computer this holiday are doubly out of luck--they won’t get their PC and they might never get back the $700 to $1,000 they paid for it either.

Patriot Computer, a Canadian manufacturer and former Mattel Inc. licensee, fired its 200 employees and filed for bankruptcy Dec. 7, with about 3,100 Barbie and Hot Wheels orders still outstanding, said a Mattel spokeswoman.

But those buyers, along with about 400 customers waiting for other Patriot products, are considered unsecured creditors of the company and therefore have low priority among other entities also seeking payment from the Ontario, Canada-based company.

“Although they have been paid for, [computer orders] will go unfilled and, due to the financial condition of the company, there can be no refunds,” said a statement by bankruptcy trustee KPMG Inc., which suggested customers contact their credit card companies to see if they have any other recourse.

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Mattel, in the uncomfortable position of having its brand names on products it doesn’t make or sell, sent each computer buyer a $100 gift certificate good for anything at Toys R Us.

“We honestly sympathize,” said Mattel’s Lisa Marie Bongiovanni. “It’s frustrating for the customers and it’s frustrating for us. Those are our brands and we wanted to take the extra step of reaching out to those customers.”

The Patriot products were available in the U.S. on Patriot’s Web site and through mail-order offers. Neither Patriot nor its bankruptcy trustee in Toronto could be reached for comment.

In its statement, KPMG said Patriot’s problems are a result of an expected investment that fell through. Patriot disclosed this fall that it would receive $24 million as a result of a recapitalization and private placement of shares, KPMG said.

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“The equity infusion did not occur and Patriot ultimately became unable to meet its obligations to its creditors and customers,” KPMG said.

El Segundo-based Mattel licensed its famous brand names to the computer maker in June 1999 and began having problems soon thereafter. Last year before Christmas, Patriot was facing mounting cancellations after the company said problems with a power-supply part from Asia would cause production delays.

The flower-covered Barbie PC was supposed to encourage girls to feel comfortable with computers. Some critics objected to what they viewed as stereotypically gender-specific colors and programs.

Barbie’s PC included such programs as “Barbie Cool Looks Fashion Designer,” “Barbie Riding Club,” and “The Ultimate Writing and Creative Center.”

The Hot Wheels models included “Math Workshop,” “Myst” and “The Oregon Trail: Pioneer Adventures,” among others.


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