The USPTO just gave Amazon a patent on the giftcard.
Not quite. But almost. Amazon received a patent on “customizing gift instrument experiences for recipients.” Amazon can keep its gift instrument away from me. The patent is basically for a gift card that allows the purchaser to (1) restrict items available for purchase, and (2) get a report of items purchased with the card. I can think of some really fun uses for this, if you want to give someone a crappy gift. More practically, it could be used instead of a credit card, maybe by restricting purchases to groceries only. Others have suggested that it works like parental controls. No doubt about that. But let’s dig deeper.
What’s a gift card? The authority of our time says:
A gift card is a restricted monetary equivalent or scrip that is issued by retailers or banks to be used as an alternative to a non-monetary gift . . . The recipient of the gift card can use it at his or her discretion within the restrictions set by the issuing agency.
Really, all Amazon did was give the purchaser of the card more discretion. The discretion was always there, since buying a gift card immediately and inherently limits the unlimited discretion afforded by cash. And stores and restaurants often have restrictions on which items may be purchased with gift cards, even within the store.
As to the second part, which reports items purchased with a card, this option is sometimes available now, albeit in a more clandestine way. The purchaser of the gift card could just write down the card number and look up the balance and probably even request a statement from the vendor. Gift cards are, after all, mostly freely transferable from user to user, although Visa has introduced personalized gift cards, with your ugly mug on card itself.
Amazon thought of this idea back in 2008, and was just granted its patent. They included all kinds of twists on the same theme, allowing the purchaser to recommend items (whoopee!), directly censor purchases (nothing but Chuck Mangione records!), limit delivery to digital or physical shipment, notifying the purchaser by voice, text, or email of what awesome schlock the recipient Bought Now.
So, we’ve all been doing, or, with minimal forethought, could have done, everything this patents allows. I can’t wait to buy my wife a gift card allowing her to purchase this and this alone.