Yeah, it's a stick.
There are essentially three qualifications an invention must have in order to be granted a patent. The invention must fall within one or more patentable categories (i.e., it must be a man-made article, composition, process, and so forth), the invention must be novel (i.e., someone can't have invented it already), and the invention must be non-obvious when viewed against what's already known (called "prior art"). Obviousness is assessed relative to someone skilled in the particular technology.
Unfortunately, many patents get granted on inventions that don't fulfill these requirements. This can be because a patent attorney does some slick talking to the US Patent & Trademark Office (USPTO), because the USPTO personnel don't take a close enough look at the prior art, or because someone just made a mistake.
Case in point: the image above is from US Patent No. 6360693, for an "Animal Toy."
Patents include one or more claims, which set forth the subject matter that defines the invention. Claim 1 of this patent follows:
1. An animal toy, comprising: (a) a solid main section having a diameter and a longitudinal length and extending a predetermined distance along said longitudinal length; and (b) at least one protrusion attached at one end thereof said main section and extending a predetermined distance therefrom and wherein said at least one protrusion includes a second longitudinal axis that is not in parallel alignment with a first longitudinal axis of said solid main section; and wherein said animal toy is adapted to float on the water.Yup, still a stick.
Admittedly, the point of this exercise is for a good chuckle, but I also believe it reflects a common shortcoming of the US patent office, which is that the Examiners have a myopic tendency to restrict their searches to prior patents and published patent applications, rather than actually looking out in the world to see what's there. This tendency weakens the public's perception of the patent system, because sometimes it results in ridiculous patents like this one. So although it might look impressive, this patent is probably worthless, because it shouldn't have issued in the first place. If the owner tries to enforce it against someone else who's selling a doggy stick toy, the patent would probably be invalidated pretty quickly because it's certainly not a novel concept, nor could it possibly have been considered non-obvious to make an animal toy that floats and looks like a stick.