You know that great-uncle whose gifts are a little, well, off the mark? The one who hasn't seen you in years, and keeps buying you sweaters that would only fit a 12-year-old? Well, now, thanks to the geniuses at Amazon, you don't have to worry about Uncle Albert's gift-giving faux pas anymore. It recently patented a "gift conversion system" that will automatically convert bad gifts into a gift certificate.
Unless Amazon is treating the U.S. patent system as a venue for elaborate, belated April Fools' jokes, this appears to be very real . Here's how the system would work, if implemented. If you are the victim of repeated bad gifts (that happen to be bought via Amazon), you would log on to the site and could tweak your profile. You could add Uncle Albert to a sort of "do-not-gift" list; anything he bought for you in the future would be converted into an Amazon gift certificate ("supposedly the gift-conversion system will auto-generate a thank-you note," says Reuters).
The system enables a new, empowering idea for gift recipients: generosity in gift-receiving. If you are more generous--part of you just loves Uncle Al too much to mislead him--then maybe you'll make only small tweaks to your profile: autoconvert any VHS purchases to DVDs, for instance, or any small T-shirts to large ones.
But if you're a stingy gift recipient, you could take the nuclear option, declaring to Amazon that you want all gifts, purchased by anyone, to be converted into Amazon dollars.
Of course, this is all in the realm of science fiction for now, until Amazon actually makes good on its patent. And though Reuters's etiquette correspondent is horrified  that we are losing sight of the adage, "It's the thought that counts," calling the patent "technology sadly run amok," we techno-optimists here at Fast Company wish to commend Jeff Bezos and his underlings for discovering this new efficiency. The thought counts, yes--and will be duly noted next time Amazon alerts you that Uncle Al had you in mind when he saw that nice sweater. But so, too, does cash, which is why gift certificates were invented in the first place.
[Image: Flickr user yorkd ]