Amazon's Patent Gift

And I thought I'd seen it all. According to a Tuesday filing with the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office, Amazon (Nasdaq: AMZN  ) has a received a patent for helping its customers buy better gifts. Yeah, I know, it sounds silly. But patent number 6,865,546 is entirely serious.

Amazon's innovation, according to the patent, derives from how it can get to know you through how and what you order. The company contends this intelligence gives its system a unique approach to helping with future purchases, especially gifts. For example, if someone orders items for you at roughly the same time year after year, Amazon's system can infer your birthday. Or if you buy a doll and order it gift-wrapped, the system is likely to suggest pink or red, because, well, little girls like that stuff. The rub: No other automated system is built to know you better than Amazon. And now it seems no one else can even try without Amazon's permission.

On the one hand, give Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos and his team credit for coming up with a system that seeks to serve us each personally. Machines, especially e-commerce machines, were really nothing more than Web-based cash registers before Amazon came along. Yet I can't escape the sheer silliness of this patent, and of the Feds for granting it.

I mean, really, what of customers of Motley Fool Hidden Gems pick RedEnvelope (Nasdaq: REDE  ) ? The high-end retailer desires to give its clients the same kind of high-touch experience you'd expect from The Sharper Image (Nasdaq: SHRP  ) or Nordstrom (NYSE: JWN  ) over the Web. Should it have to pay Amazon for that privilege? Before you answer that, ask yourself this: Don't you want personal service every time you shop? Should a patent ever stand in the way of you receiving that service? No, I don't think so, either.

For related Foolishness:

Amazon.com is aMotley Fool Stock Advisorrecommendation. Subscribe today for six months without risk to find out which other companies have made the cut.

Fool contributor Tim Beyers plans to file a patent for witty, self-deprecating analysis of stocks. Pay up, buster. Tim didn't own shares in any of the companies mentioned in this story at the time of publication. You can find out what's in his portfolio by checking Tim's Fool profile, which is here. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.


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