Amazon's Bad Gift Converter: Convenient or Crass? obtained a patent for a controversial idea last week: Technology that would allow people to ward off bad gifts by converting them to more desirable items before they're delivered.

The patent, called simply a "system and method for converting gifts," was granted to Amazon Nov. 9. Here's how the patent filing described the idea:

With the increasing popularity of network shopping services (e.g., websites that enable users to make purchases on-line), the popularity of purchasing gifts through network shopping services has also increased. As in other gift-giving situations, it sometimes occurs that gifts purchased on-line do not meet the needs or tastes of the gift recipient. 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. In such situations, the recipient may wish to convert the gift to something else, for example, by exchanging the gift for another item or by obtaining a redemption coupon, gift card, or other gift certificate to be redeemed later....
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. It will be appreciated that while the teachings herein describe certain features and advantages that may be achieved, the teachings herein may be used to implement systems and methods that do not necessarily have any of these features or advantages, but rather have other features and advantages.