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Bankruptcy crashes the Barbie PC

Customers who ordered PCs festooned with Barbie decals are out of luck this holiday season: The manufacturer, Patriot Computer, has filed for bankruptcy.

Barbie, we hardly knew ye.

Customers who ordered $699 PCs festooned with Barbie decals are out of luck this holiday season: Patriot Computer, which manufactured the Barbie PC as well as the Hot Wheels PC, has filed for bankruptcy.

A message on Patriot's corporate phone line states that the Toronto-based PC manufacturer voluntarily filed for bankruptcy on Dec. 7. A letter explaining the situation has been sent to customers, and the first meeting of creditors will take place on Jan. 9, according to the taped message.

A backlog of computer orders exists, the phone message states. Unfortunately, customers who paid for computers won't get an immediate refund or a computer.

"If you are a party that remitted funds to get a computer and did not receive one, you are an unsecured creditor by virtue of the fact that you will not receive a computer," states the recorded message on Patriot's phone system.

Toy giant Mattel owns the Barbie and Hot Wheels brands. In a statement, Mattel said it has terminated its licensing agreement with Patriot and reiterated that it did not manufacture or market the computers.

To ameliorate customers, Mattel will give $100 gift certificates to consumers who paid for, but did not get, a PC. About 3,100 certificates will be given out, Mattel said.

"We started sending (the gift certificates) out yesterday, and we're sending more out today, so hopefully (customers) will get them before the holiday weekend," Lisa Marie Bongiovann, Mattel's director of corporate communications, said Thursday. "Basically Patriot Computer was unable to make payments (for the license to Barbie and Hot Wheels trademarks), so Mattel ended the licensing agreement."

Patriot's sudden failure has angered customers who ordered the computer directly from the manufacturer and has prompted a flurry of message board postings and emails.

"I ordered a Barbie PC for my daughter on Dec. 5, 2000. On Dec. 6, I was told that I would definitely receive my order before Christmas, despite the fact that there were about 1,100 orders that had not yet been shipped," one customer wrote to CNET "Did they not know that they would be filing for bankruptcy when I placed my order, 40 hours before they went to court?"

The Barbie and Hot Wheels PCs emerged in the summer of 1999 when the industry was drunk on the idea that stylish, colorful computers would sweep the market. Despite plenty of hype, the products' popularity was relatively short-lived.

Patriot's problems aren't new. Deliveries lagged during the holiday shopping season in 1999.

Other than the recorded message on the company's corporate line, Patriot representatives could not be reached for comment.

Staff writer John G. Spooner contributed to this report.