Have you ever given someone a gift card with an idea of what they should buy (but pretty much knowing that they're going to blow it on something else)? Well, the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office has given Amazon.com a patent for a "smart" gift card that can recommend items, track what the balance is used for, and restrict certain items from being purchased at all.
The new patent, called "Customizing gift instrument experiences for recipients," isn't just a fancy way of saying Amazon has new gift card designs. These smart cards can also have "redemption recommendations, restrictions, or other content" built into them, based on the recipient.
So, in theory, if your niece's obsessive accumulation of everything Twilight is driving you mad and you'd rather she read something halfway intelligent, you can try to force Team Dylan Edbus and block Team Edward.
On a more practical, less hateful level, Amazon's customized "gift instruments" are simply gift cards with baked-in parental controls. GeekWire's Todd Bishop culled examples from the patent application, such as restricting movie purchases based on MPAA rating; locking the recipient into a specific section of Amazon.com (books good, video games bad); and the type of delivery system, such as allowing physical shipments but not digital downloads. (Yes, it's a lot like government-issued Food Stamps.)
Worried that your stodgy, anti-fun uncle will push his eggnog-stained literature on you -- when all you want is a Kindle Fire? Fear not! Another Amazon patent comes to the rescue: last year's the "end of regifting" patent.
This patent creates a blacklist for gift-givers. If someone on your blacklist tries sending you a well-meaning-but-principally-awful gift via Amazon.com, you're automatically alerted and can return the item before it's even shipped, all without the gift-giver's knowledge.
If these combative patents sound determined to kill joy once and for all, you're probably right. But remember: for now, they're both just patented ideas and have not yet been enacted by Amazon. So it may be years before you get the chance to tamper with the fun of the holiday season, if you get that chance at all.