Amazon patent thinks pink

Gifts such as dolls should be wrapped in pastel paper. Whether obvious or not, the company now holds the patent on the idea.

Gifts such as dolls should be wrapped in pink paper. Whether it is obvious or not, Amazon now holds the patent on the idea.

Amazon.com has been granted a U.S. patent on "Methods and systems of assisting users in purchasing items," including the use of gift-buying habits to determine the age, gender and birthday of gift recipients, according to a filing Tuesday with the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office.

The patent concerns inferring information about gift recipients and using that information to suggest appropriate items and services, such as birthday or Valentine's Day reminders and age- and gender-appropriate gifts. "For example, if the purchased toy is a dress for a doll, it may be inferred that the recipient is a girl," the patent states.

"The gender information may be used in determining which gift wrapping colors and patterns should be suggested when the item is being purchased as a gift. For example, if it is inferred that the recipient is a girl, pink or pastel colored gift wrapping may be suggested first."

Much of the patent's descriptions relate to how a Web site can determine the age and birth date of birthday gift recipients. For example, if a toy appropriate for a 2-year-old is purchased one year, and a toy appropriate for a 3-year-old is purchased a year later around the same time, the site can use this information to automatically provide services such as birthday reminders, the filing says.

Under conventional systems, "in order to receive birthday reminders, the customer has to actively provide the date of the birthday to the merchant," the filing says. "Many customers will not take the time to provide such birth dates, and so are deprived of receiving reminders."

Amazon's patent grants it ownership of many data-mining techniques used to identify when a purchase is a gift and what sort of present it is. "If the item being ordered is perfume, and the date is one week before Valentine's Day, it may be inferred that the perfume is being purchased as a gift," the filing states. If a user chooses to send a message with a gift, the system can parse the message for "key words, such as birthday or anniversary" and infer the type of event associated with the gift, the patent states.

Last month the Patent Office published Amazon's application for a patent on "server architecture and methods for persistently storing and serving event data," which describes the "personal search history" feature of Amazon's A9 search service.

Amazon's most notorious business-process patent is on "one click" shopping, which drew enough criticism that Amazon Chief Executive Jeff Bezos wrote an open letter calling for patent reform--but not before launching an unsuccessful lawsuit against Barnesandnoble.com.

Earlier this month, Symantec was granted a patent for threat-detection technology built into its software products.

Matthew Broersma of ZDNet UK reported from London.

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