Copies of U.S. patents are easy to locate, and there is no charge to view them. An antique dealer should not access a fee for patent drawings. If you have a patent number, getting the information you need for a patent is simple.

Many older appliances have actual patent numbers on them, which can usually be found on a nameplate or in a discreet location, such as the bottom of the appliance. If the appliance isn't on hand, many vendors on eBay have magnified photos that include patent inscriptions in hopes that you'll buy their product. There are also websites that freely publish patent numbers.

Finding a Patent

  • Go to the U.S. Patent & Trademark Office website.
  • Choose the Patent Number Search, which allows you to search the patent number
  • If the patent number is correct, the next screen will have the patent number on the right side of the screen. 

Patent information for inventions patented after 1971 will be displayed. Patents prior to 1971 are only recorded as pictures, so you have to click the “images” button to view them. These pictures can be screen captured by pressing the Shift, Control, and Print Screen keys at the same time. The screenshots can then be edited by using photo editing software.

The actual patent document can be viewed as a movie with “Flash” graphics. The USPTO recommends a “plugin” that allows you to view the documents as .TIFF files, provided the browser and firewall support that, and they may not be saved if the .TIFF plugin isn't installed.

If you don't have the patent number, the patent files can be searched, provided the invention was patented after 1971. This can be done on the USPTO website's Quick Search. You can use this just like other search engines and simply follow the directions, and if the invention was patented, the search will find it.

If you don't have the patent number and the invention was patented prior to 1971, your search becomes much more difficult. The Google Patent website is a newer search system that is effective. The Advanced Search option on the website lets you search by date, restrict the patent type, and use other types of filters to narrow your search.

The biggest challenge with the Google Patent website is that the Optical Character Reader (OCR) has some difficulty recognizing the old Patent Gazette, because it was printed on older, cheap paper, and the ink bleeds. This can create confusion with certain letters and numbers.

The FreePatentsOnline website has been using an OCR program for the pre-1971 patents, which makes them easier to search. As of February 2009, the FreePatentsOnline website has done well with scanning the “use” patents, but there are still some issues with design patents.

The Advanced Search options in the FreePatentsOnline website does allow you to limit your search by a year range, which can help you find more patents when it's combined with other specifics, such as the type. 

Unfortunately, the FreePatentsOnline website only gives you the patent number, which means you still need to go back to the USPTO website for the actual drawings and specifications.

If you have any doubts about when the patent was issued, you can always go to a large municipal library to conduct your search. 

Information on Patents

All plant and utility patent applications must be published, according to the American Inventor's Protection Act of 1999. Its purpose was to provide inventors with protection for their patents and the ability to defend them. Under this Act, it is simpler for inventors to make claims when the belief is that the patent infringing party has notice of the existing patent.

Full texts and diagrams of patented inventions can be found at the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office website. Here, you can search current patents or patents full text (PatFT). There are also the World Intellectual Property Organization, the European Patent Office, or the Australian Patent Office, all of which publish international patents and have individual websites.

Downloadable patents can be found at the Google Patents website, and using this option will give you the full application and drawings of the inventions. Only U.S. patents are available for download, however, as this website was created in connection with the United States Patent Office.

If you need help obtaining copies of U.S. patents, you can post your legal need on UpCounsel's marketplace. UpCounsel accepts only the top 5 percent of lawyers to its site. Lawyers on UpCounsel come from law schools such as Harvard Law and Yale Law and average 14 years of legal experience, including work with or on behalf of companies like Google, Menlo Ventures, and Airbnb.