Guide to finding patents, based on the collections of the State Library of Victoria

Finding patents pathfinder

The information below should be used in conjunction with the tabs above.  This page gives broad information about finding patents. The tabs above will give more specific information for finding guides registered in a specific state / colony or country, during a particular period.

Key information required to find patents

  • patent number
  • date of patent application / grant
  • place of registration (country, state, region)
  • name of inventor or applicant
  • invention details

If you have a patent number & date & geographic location

Step 1 – retrieve patent from relevant collection (print or online)

If you have only an inventor’s name

- you will need the geographic location & date & patent number

Step 1 – you will need to determine the relevant geographic location (e.g. Victoria)

Step 2 – you will need to determine the relevant date or date range (e.g. 1860s)

Step 3 – if a geographic location and date or date range is known, then search relevant print and online name indexes to identify the exact patent number and date

NOTE - if a geographic location cannot be established indexes from a range of states and countries will need to be searched

Step 4 - order patent from relevant collection (print or online)

If you have only a patent number

– you will need the date & geographic location

Step 1 – list what information that you have about the patent

(a)     the geographic location (state, country or region) registering the patent

(b)     the inventor’s name

(c)      the date the patent was registered

(d)     the nature of the invention (e.g. sheep shears)

Step 2 – or, determine the geographic location and date, by checking number and date sequences for different Country and State collections [see Patents Guide]

Step 3 – or, determine the geographic location and date, by ‘number searching’ online indexes

Step 4 - retrieve patent from relevant collection (print or online)

If you have a piece of machinery and you want to know more information about it

– identify a relevant patent, as this can provide detailed information about the machine 

Step 1 – does the part have a name or number on it ?

Step 2 – does the word “patent” or “pat” appear on the part ?

Step 3 – if there are names or numbers on the part, patent indexes referred to in this guide can be checked to identify a relevant patent. A number of the pages of this guide provide patent number sequences applicable in different countries, and over various date ranges. These lists may help pinpoint a relevant patent and its country of registration.

Step 4 – if a patent cannot be identified, search library catalogues for published guides to machinery. One example is Old farm machinery in Australia: a fieldguide & source. This book covers "old agricultural implements, machinery and engines, used in Australia, whether manufactured here or overseas". These guides can be very useful in identifying machines and their makers.  Another useful source is The Old Machinery Magazine.

Step 5 – if you still cannot find the information that you need, you can send an online enquiry on the State Library of Victoria website. Click on the Ask a Librarian link on the homepage to find the online form. 

 If looking for patents on particular types of inventions, for example, sheep shears

– you will need to narrow the search criteria

Step 1 – be specific about the invention, for example, sheep shears that are hand operated or mechanically driven

Step 2 – what date range is relevant ?

Step 3 – what geographic location, if any, is relevant (e.g. only need Australian patents) ?

Step 4 – search relevant print and online subject or class indexes to find relevant patents

Step 5 – retrieve patent from relevant collection (print or online)


  • categorise the  information you have about a patent – country or state of Australia where the patent was registered; patent number, date, applicant’s or inventor’s name, type of invention 
  • Using this guide, identify relevant patent indexes or websites to search
  • identify appropriate date ranges to search 
  • locate the appropriate library collection or search the relevant website as given in this guide to find  the patent, using  details such as name, subject and patent number. 

Research tips

Clarify the available information

If you are unsure about a patent number, questions to ask are:

Is the patent number actually recorded on an object? Could the name on the object be the manufacturer's name and not the inventor's name?

Was the product made in Australia or imported from overseas ? Answers to these questions will help you to locate specific patents.

It is really a patent number ?

Could the number refer to a registered industrial design or a registered trade mark, and not in fact to a registered patent?

Could the number be a manufacturer's product item code or part number ?

Is the number a product standard number? Standards are published specifications and procedures to ensure quality and safety in manufactured products. For example, Australian Standard AS 5007-2007, "Powered doors for pedestrian access and egress".

Not all inventions are patented

Some products may carry a stamp that says "Patent" or "Patent Pending". This does not mean that a patent was actually applied for or granted, as it may have been used to discourage other manufacturers from copying a product.

Patent numbers

Patents are usually allocated both an application (provisional) number and, if accepted, a granted (accepted, registered, serial, publication) number.

But for some patents, both the application and the granted number are the same number. These include Colonial State patents, and Australian patents from 1904 to 1935.

In some patent series, the same numbers are repeated in different date cycles.

For example, Australian Patent Application numbers begin with Number 1 every 5 years, except for 1936 to 1940, and these begin with Number 1 each year.

State Library Victoria

Note - we have just upgraded our Library catalogue and are updating some links on our guides.

As we do this some catalogue links may not resolve correctly.