Many want to find the patents for famous inventions so that they can find out more. I have been told about a site which lists close to 500 inventions, mostly patented (the numbers are prominently given), and enables simple searches and sorting, Compare Inventors from FindtheData.
This listing is very useful, and they are accompanied by interesting comments and biographical details. An academic might ask for more such as the ability to sort by level or type of education, or by company. I have in my time been asked many strange questions by academics, but my lips are sealed as they were asked in confidence.
Also useful, and covering many more inventions (but only sometimes giving the patent number), is About.com's Famous Inventions site.
The site I have traditionally used is the National Inventors Hall of Fame site, which consistently gives patent numbers. As the emphasis here is on the inventor rather than the invention you get what may seem odd attributions for, for example, penicillin and television.
All three only give American patent numbers only. All three sites are worth researching but the problems are a lack of source material (many inventions are disputed, such as the light bulb and electronic television) and the frequent lack of a patent number to refer to.