While it may sound more Scrooge than Santa Claus, Amazon (AMZN), the world's largest online retailer, has filed a patent for technology that would allow customers to return -- or "convert" -- gifts they don't like, even before they actually arrive, according to the Washington Post.

Amazon's patent, which is jointly attributed to CEO Jeff Bezos, includes among other services a way to automatically return presents from particular friends or family members who consistently send bad gifts. For example, the patent says you could "convert all gifts from Aunt Mildred." In this instance, "the user may specify such a rule because the user believes that this potential sender has different tastes than the user."

And whether the gift recipient implements this exchange regularly, or just once, the gift giver should never know the exchange happened: "The user may also be provided with the option of sending a thank you note for the original gift," according to the patent, "even though the original gift is converted."

"Misses the Spirit of Giving"

Amazon's rationale, as outlined in the patent filing, is that "the gift-giving experience through network shopping services would be improved for both senders and recipients if enhanced systems and methods were provided for converting gifts." There are also onerous and expensive shipping costs to contend with when up to 30% of all gifts are exchanged in some form or another.

But some are miffed at the philosophy behind computerized gift-exchanging. "This idea totally misses the spirit of gift giving," Anna Post, great-great-granddaughter of etiquette doyenne Emily Post, said to the Post. "The point of gift giving is to allow someone else to go through that action of buying something for us. Otherwise, giving a gift just becomes another one of the world's transactions."

For now, etiquette minders and potentially hurt family members can take a deep breath. Amazon has set no timetable for moving this idea from patent to reality, and even if it happens, the likelihood that millions of unhappy gift recipients will jump on board to "convert" their presents to the gadgets, clothes and toys they really want seems to be fairly small indeed.

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This is one of the rudest things I have heard in a long time. I thought gift registries were in bad taste... Why not send potential gift givers bank account and routing numbers. That way they can just deposit the cash into your account... I actually know people who did this. The deposit form was included with the wedding invitation. It does not get much more tacky than that! Aunt Mildred should tell you all to take a flying leap and never send another gift again!

December 28 2010 at 11:04 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply