December 28, 2010, 2:11 PM

No one likes sweaters from Aunt Mildred anyway

A new Amazon patent could prevent bad gifts from reaching their recipients.

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Amazon.com Inc. has received a patent that would allow a consumer to exchange a gift—before he receives it—for something that he’d prefer, such as another item or a gift certificate. It remains unclear, however, if Amazon will implement the technology.

“It sometimes occurs that gifts purchased online do not meet the needs or tastes of the gift recipient,” reads the patent. “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.”

The patent would enable gift recipients to convert their gifts whenever a particular gift giver sends them a gift. For instance, a consumer could select to "Convert all gifts from Aunt Mildred" because “the user believes that this potential sender has different tastes than the user," says the patent. Or, consumers could designate certain types of gifts he does not want to receive, such as clothing made of wool.

The patent would also allow the recipient to send Aunt Mildred a thank-you note for her original gift—even though it was converted to something else.

The process would also enable Amazon to cut back on the substantial costs of returns, including shipping, repacking and labeling.

Amazon, No. 1 in the Internet Retailer Top 500 Guide, filed for the patent in March 2006, but was only awarded it Nov. 9. The retailer did not return e-mail or phone requests for comment.

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