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Japanese fuzzy on HDTV

Some of the news making the technology world buzz

It was a display of confusion and cross-purposes totally unlike the Japan the world thought it knew.

Tuesday, a senior official said Japan would cease support for a Japanese standard for super-high-quality televisions because the technology did not match world trends.

Wednesday, the official recanted, and presidents of Japan's top electronics companies launched a counterattack to assure consumers that the new generation technology was alive and well.

The confusing shifts in the government's position deepened the sense of disarray surrounding Japan's expensive effort to build a high-definition-television industry, which was once the pride of the nation's rapid technological progress.

Tokyo has lost its huge lead in HDTV, which offers crystal-clear pictures, as U.S. industry has developed a technology that, while still years from operation, appears to leapfrog the Japanese competition.

Last week's developments indicated how badly Japan Inc. is floundering as it seeks a way to cope.

Jury sides with Compaq in injury suit

HOUSTON _ Compaq Computer Corp. has won what is believed to be the first jury verdict in a lawsuit brought by a customer who claims to have been permanently injured by a computer keyboard.

Compaq and other big-name computer makers, including IBM Corp. and Apple Computer Inc., face many lawsuits from people who say repetitive operations on keyboards cause crippling pain and numbness that have ruined their careers. Many lawsuits have been consolidated.

In the case decided recently in a Texas court, Patsy Heard Woodcock, a former legal secretary in Houston, said she suffered wrist injuries because of a Compaq keyboard. She can't lift more than 5 pounds with her hands.

She asked Compaq for $800,000 in damages and lost wages. But jurors, who deliberated for 55 minutes after a 2{-week trial, found that the computer company didn't know its computers could cause injury.

"The key to the verdict, the turning point was that there was no connection proven between the aches and pains of the plaintiff, and the keyboard," Ed Hubbard, an attorney for Compaq, said last week.

But Steven Phillips, a New York attorney representing some 2,000 keyboard-wrist injury plaintiffs in a case that goes to trial this summer, downplayed Compaq's victory.

"In all of these mass torts, the deck is stacked at the beginning for the defendant," Phillips said. "It always takes the plaintiffs' attorneys a year or two to get up to speed. I'm extremely confident."

"Wired' and WIRE collide on Internet

SAN FRANCISCO _ In another sign of the growing importance and maturing usage of the Internet, two groups recently scuffled over the right to use a name that allows people to reach them on the big computer network.

Wired magazine, a San Francisco-based monthly that covers digital technology, thought the designation used by WIRE, a computer network devoted to women's issues that also is based in San Francisco, was too close to the one it uses.

WIRE had Wired has (The .net means that WIRE is a network. The .com designates a commercial venture.)

The dispute ended when Wired agreed to pay half what it cost WIRE to change its name to Women's Wire and to run several ads for the network. In return, Women's Wire changed its name and its net address, which is now

Devotees of the Internet say such a dispute shows its frontier days are ending.

"This was the first sign that there were a whole lot of legal matters that we haven't put our attention on, even though we knew that they're lurking there," said Howard Rheingold, author of TheVirtual Community, a recent book on the social effects of electronic networks.

Short bytes

America Online Inc., which has been plagued by user overload in recent months, said last week that subscribers should face fewer busy signals when they try to log on during peak hours . . . Prodigy Services Co. said last week it will bring "chat" features, which allow instant communication among users, to its on-line computer service by summer . . . Motorola Inc. has developed a simpler way for personal-computer manufacturers to add popular sound and video functions to the machines to make multimedia computers less costly and more flexible, the company said last week . . . WordPerfect Corp. said its latest word processing program geared for Apple Computer Inc.'s PowerPC Macintosh, WordPerfect 3.0 for Macintosh, will be available when the new machines are shipped next month . . . IBM said last week that Canon Inc. has agreed to use the Power PC chip in future personal computers. Canon is one of the few computer makers beyond the three companies that have jointly developed the PowerPC _ IBM, Apple and Motorola _ to commit itself to using the new chip.

_ Compiled from Times wires by staff writer Dave Gussow.