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A diagram from the newly issued Amazon patent.

Happy Birthday! Here’s the Creepiest Gift Card Ever!

U.S. Patent & Trademark Office records show that Amazon today received a patent on something called “customizing gift instrument experiences for recipients.”

Yeah, it sounds OK from the title. But digging into the text, the approach includes the option for the giver to not only recommend items via the gift card but also to restrict the types of things the card can be used to buy — and to get a report back on what the recipient purchases.

OK, in all seriousness, these are basically parental controls for gift cards — probably not the type of thing you would give to a friend or adult family member. And in that context it’s actually pretty interesting.

As with most of these patents, it’s not clear when or even whether Amazon plans to roll out the technology publicly. The company first applied for the patent in 2008, so the idea isn’t a new one inside the company. Excerpts from the patent filing …

In some embodiments, the customization information includes one or more rules specified by the gift instrument purchaser for association with the gift instrument. For example, in addition to potentially recommending specific items to the gift instrument recipient, the gift instrument purchaser can restrict the redemption of the gift instrument to a set of items, a category or a type of items. For example, in some embodiments, the gift instrument purchaser restricts redemption of the gift to a category such as digital media purchases or rentals. The rules could also specify that the available media be constrained by a rating, such as a parental rating (e.g. G, PG, PG-13, R, etc.) or media that excludes explicit lyrics or language. In other examples, the gift instrument purchaser directs that the gift instrument can only be redeemed for books (e.g., not video games), books of a selected genre (e.g., romance, action, historical, etc.), books having a selected author, etc. The rule can also specify a type of delivery mechanism (e.g., physical shipment versus digital downloads) or delivery speed. It can be appreciated that a wide variety of rules are possible and they will vary by, among other things, the type of item being gifted. A processor is configured to access and apply the rules during redemption by the gift instrument recipient.

In some embodiments, the gift instrument redemption service identifies the selected items to the corresponding gift instrument purchaser. The selected items are identified as the items are selected, or only after all the items have been purchased. For example, the gift instrument purchaser is notified whenever the gift instrument recipient 204 selects a particular item from the redemption recommendation information, views a description of the particular item, adds the particular item to an electronic shopping cart, or completes a purchase transaction for the particular item or for all the selected items. The gift instrument redemption service identifies the corresponding gift instrument purchaser based on the identification data associated with the gift instrument and provides a notification to the identified gift instrument purchaser. The notification includes, for example, a voice message, electronic message, or text message indicating that the gift instrument recipient has selected the particular item. In some embodiments, the notification is a “thank you” note from the gift instrument recipient listing the one or more items selected by the gift instrument recipient. In this manner, the gift instrument purchaser is notified of the ultimate use of the gift instrument previously presented to the gift instrument recipient.

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