Undoubtedly, the Thread and Bobbin Sewing Kit that Aunt Mildred sent from Amazon.com for Christmas will never see a stitch. The Stallion Stable Music Box might have looked pretty on the computer screen, but under the tree’s flickering lights, it is frightful. The polka-dot nightgown has never been a good idea, even with free shipping.

These gifts sent via some warehouse many miles away are not only unwanted, but also a multimillion-dollar headache: They have to be repacked, labeled, dropped off and shipped back to Amazon’s Island of Misfit Toys. Then a new present has to be packed, labeled and shipped again. Efficient, the process is not.

Amazon is working on a solution that could revolutionize digital gift buying. The online retailer has quietly patented a way for people to return gifts before they receive them, and the patent documents even mention poor Aunt Mildred. Amazon’s innovation, not ready for this Christmas season, includes an option to “Convert all gifts from Aunt Mildred,” the patent says. “For example, the user may specify such a rule because the user believes that this potential sender has different tastes than the user.” In other words, the consumer could keep an online list of lousy gift-givers whose choices would be vetted before anything ships.

Amazon’s proposal has raised the ire of the Miss Manners crowd, which thinks the scheme rather uncouth. After all, receiving an e-mail notification of a forthcoming gift – and thereby being able to check its price – is hardly the same as unwrapping the item at home…

Amazon appears to be quite serious: Its patent was awarded not just to Amazon, but to its founder, Jeff Bezos…Amazon’s patent is 12 pages long, with numerous diagrams, including a “Gift Conversion Rules Wizard” that shows how a user could select rules such as, “No clothes with wool.” The document makes for curious reading, reducing the art of gift giving to the dry language of patentry…

RTFA. The patent description is about as dry – and humorous – as you might expect. It lays down a line between propriety and opportunity that will kick off some delightful family arguments.




  1. Floyd says:

    Many Aunt Mildreds will be highly upset if the recipient isn’t wearing the “wonderful” reindeer sweater in the picture (or whatever treasure) to the family Christmas gathering.

    See Ralphie’s pink bunny jammies (aka pink nightmare) in “A Christmas Story” for another example.

  2. bobbo, it takes two fools to have an argument says:

    Sad that a “Patent” could be issued on what essentially is just a transactional idea presenting nothing new and unique. I wonder how many gift registries allow the account holder to take the value of the gift selected to be applied to other more preferred items?

    Who hold the patent on the transactional idea of selling things on the internet?

    Hard to legislate common sense.

  3. Animal Mother says:

    Wear the damn thing. Auntie Mildred can still change her will.

  4. bobbo, it takes two fools to have an argument says:

    Here’s a recent example of controlling an idea:

    “A daredevil who parachutes from skyscrapers announced in January that he would try to smash the nearly 50-year-old record for the highest-ever jump, becoming the first person to go supersonic in freefall. But in October, his corporate sponsor, Red Bull, stopped work on the project, citing a multi-million-dollar lawsuit by an entrepreneur who claimed rights to the idea.”

    Now, I don’t believe such a lawsuit has any chance in heck, but its enough of an idea that Red Bull can put it out there as an excuse. Probably, they just realized they don’t want to be associated with a failed promotion.

    Nice review here on this an other topics: http://newscientist.com/gallery/most-popular-space-stories-2010/5

  5. scadragon says:

    Here’s a cool New Years day present:
    All 156 episodes of the Twilight Zone in under 10 min

  6. Improbus says:

    Has anyone patented spanking yet?

  7. The Watcher says:

    Maybe it’s just me, but the odds are that the folks sending me presents I’d like to turn around without seeing them would have no idea how to order them from Amazon, or even Sears….

    She’s long since deceased, but I had a great-aunt (or some such) who used to feel obligated to send birthday and holiday gifts to practically everybody.

    Wouldn’t have minded, but she had a close relative in a very small town about 60 miles away who owned a clothing store. She would go there every once in a while, and essentially buy the stuff nobody else wanted. Then send _that_ to us kids….

    Good luck on exchanging those gifts….

    Remember the “Married With Children” episode when Bundy’s kids get him gifts from “Godawful”? I think that was my late aunt’s connection….

    Donate it to “Goodwill”? They refused….

  8. Improbus says:

    This is why I give money for Christmas. It is easy and can be spent anywhere. The ultimate gift certificate.


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