SAN JOSE, CALIF. -- A handful of new semiconductors introduced last week by a San Jose company give computer makers the key ingredients to clone International Business Machines Corp.'s Personal System-2 computers. But that doesn't mean computer firms will rush to do it.
That's because older generation computers -- IBM's PC-AT and compatible machines made by other companies -- are selling better than ever, and few computer customers are demanding the more advanced PS/2-style machines yet. Fear of an IBM lawsuit against the first clones also is keeping some companies on the sidelines.
"I don't think anybody out there really wants to be the first on the market with a PS/2 compatible," said Chris Kryzan, marketing manager of personal computer products at Wyse Technology, a San Jose computer maker.
Chips and Technologies Inc. of San Jose said last week that companies using its new chip sets could market a machine that works like the PS/2, only faster, within six months.
"Now even the smallest garage in Taiwan can indeed put (a PS/2 compatible) together," said Raj Jaswa, a Chips and Technologies marketing manager.
The challenge for Chips and Technologies and other chip companies was to find a way to mimic PS/2's Micro Channel -- the electronic path, or bus, that connects the Intel Corp. microprocessors that are the PS/2's "brains" with the chips that control the computer's video display, hard disk drive and other peripheral equipment.
IBM says Micro Channel breaks the limitations the AT design imposes on some computer features, such as graphics and communications between personal computers and mainframe computers.
But IBM has sent signals that it doesn't want a repeat performance of what happened with its earlier PCs, which were copied by hundreds of companies that drove down prices and cut IBM's market share.
IBM has said it is possible -- albeit difficult -- to make a legal clone of PS/2 machines, which it introduced last April amid great fanfare. But even those who successfully clone PS/2 probably will need licenses on IBM patents to ensure that Big Blue doesn't slap them with a lawsuit.
As yet, IBM isn't issuing licenses, analysts said. Chips and Technologies said IBM has been slow to respond to its requests, and no computer maker publicly has confirmed having one, analysts said. On the other hand, legal experts said that some large computer makers may have open-ended licensing arrangements with IBM that, depending on how the pacts are worded, might shield them from legal problems.
Experts believe that the legal questions won't be answered until IBM reacts to the first PS/2 clone.
"If you take IBM at face value and look at what they've done in the past and are doing now, you have to conclude that ... they're concerned about protecting" PS/2, said James Pooley, a Palo Alto, Calif., attorney specializing in technology law. "If they think that you have infringed, they will come after you in a very expensive way."
But until PS/2 sales start cutting into AT-compatible sales, few computer makers feel pressured to offer it.
"Why change unless there's some big benefit?" said Bob Puette, general manager of the personal computer group at Palo Alto-based Hewlett-Packard Co., which makes IBM compatibles. "Right now, we can't supply our AT compatibles fast enough."