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Did Amazon.com just patent Christmas?

Not quite, but the company has just received a patent on what has become a common method of giving presents — a system for selecting digital gifts such as movies, music or e-books, sending an electronic notification to a recipient, and allowing them to download the gift.

There is one unusual twist: The patent describes the ability for the giver to delay payment until the recipient has accepted the digital gift, or cancel the order (and avoid payment) if the gift hasn’t been accepted and downloaded by the recipient after a certain period of time.

However, rest of the patent describes ideas that will seem less than novel to most people who use the Internet. Maybe this stuff seemed innovative back in 2008, when Amazon applied for the patent. But four years later, it reads like a case study in the obvious.

For example …

The prospect of electronically transferrable items offers an alternative to conventional methods of giving gifts that might include music, movies, television programs, games, or books. For example, instead of giving a gift certificate for a retail store that would allow a recipient to select a gift of the recipient’s own choosing, one can give a gift certificate for electronically transferrable items. Using the gift certificate, the recipient can conveniently access the desired electronically transferrable items. However, when a giver presents a gift certificate for electronically transferrable items, the gift may be considered impersonal because the giver did not take the time to choose a specific gift for the particular recipient. Also, it is not unusual for a gift certificate not to be redeemed by a recipient, wasting the money the giver spent on the gift certificate.

Broad patents like these have become a lightning rod in the tech industry, helping to fuel criticism of the U.S. patent system.

In this case, it’s too bad we can’t hold the company to the approach it describes in the patent. Amazon today charges people who give Kindle books when they place their orders, but now that Amazon brings it up, it sure would be nice to wait to see if the recipient accepts the gift before getting hit with the charge. We’ll be watching for it in a future product update.

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