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Amazon patents system to stop bad gifts

December 29, 2010 |  5:44 pm

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Amazon.com has been awarded a patent for an online system that would give users the ability to exchange unwanted gifts before receiving them.

The technology could prevent the shipment of thousands of superfluous ties to fathers, ugly sweaters to grandchildren and various other lackluster presents that are currently being bought and shipped through the online retail giant.

Officials at Amazon were unavailable Wednesday to comment on how far along in development the gift exchange system is, or if and when its users could expect the technology to be available for use.

The patent, approved by the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office, says Amazon's "system and method for converting gifts" would let users fend off a gift they don't want without notifying the gift-giver.

"It sometimes occurs that gifts purchased online do not meet the needs or tastes of the gift recipient," Amazon wrote in its patent filing. "For example, the recipient may already have the item and may not need another one of that same item. Alternatively, the item may not be the right size, the right type, the right style, and so on.

"In such situations, the recipient may wish to convert the gift to something else, for example, by exchanging the gift for another item or by obtaining a redemption coupon, gift card, or other gift certificate to be redeemed later."

A user could also create a setting where any gift from a specified sender on Amazon.com is automatically converted into gift cards or other items.

Amazon's filing presents the example of a hypothetical "Aunt Mildred" who "has different tastes than the user." The user could arrange for any presents sent by Aunt Mildred to be detected and exchanged before they ever arrive.

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-- Nathan Olivarez-Giles

twitter.com/nateog

Photo: Leacroft Green moves a package in the shipping area at an Amazon.com fulfillment center in Goodyear, Ariz., on Nov. 11. Credit: Ross D. Franklin/Associated Press

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