From nerd to lawyer

If I had been born in the 21st century my fascination with technology would be unremarkable. But when Australia gave up its pounds, shillings and pence in 1966, at the age of 12, I had already built my own computer, fax machine and mobile phone. Sadly, far from making me uber-cool, my obsession with technology led to a solitary childhood. These days, I would probably have been labelled “on the spectrum”. The upside was that I developed an extraordinary ability to create something seemingly impossible starting with very little.

The life of an inventor is a bold and creative one by necessity and it began when I obtained my first patent (for a telephone call barring device) at the age of 16 and have been the named  inventor on many patents issued since then, some of which have become well known technologies. Later in life I was described as a pioneer in electronics and computers who is not afraid of controversy.

By the age of 23, with my school friend Kim Ryrie, I had developed the world’s first commercial sound sampling electronic musical instrument, the Fairlight CMI. During the eighties, the Fairlight was used by many of the world’s leading recording superstars including Stevie Wonder, Kate Bush, Herbie Hancock, Peter Gabriel and most of the other big names of that time. New Scientist magazine described me as one of “three men who changed the sound of music… Modern music would probably sound very different without Bob Moog, Peter Vogel and David Smith… their ground-breaking work in musical technology led to three inventions that gave pop, rock and classical musicians unprecedented creative freedom.” UNESCO says the CMI “transformed the music, post-production and broadcast industries, and helped position them on a course through the next century.”

I have designed a wide range of consumer and industrial devices, including “Vitalcall”, a personal medical emergency alarm which 30 years later is still the market leader and continues to save many lives.

My inventions have been particularly prolific in the field of television. My ideas were directed at making television viewing more enjoyable for viewers, for example, by providing an on-screen program guide (EPG). My inventions included an effective device for removing commercials from TV recordings, which inevitably brought me into conflict with television broadcasters. In 2003, I founded IceTV, which provided Australia’s first subscription based electronic program guide for television, offering a personal video recording service using mobile phones and web browsers to remotely schedule digital video recorders to record. In 2006 IceTV was sued by the Nine Network who alleged that IceTV’s EPG breached their copyright. The case was fought all the way to the High Court of Australia, which in 2009 ruled in IceTV’s favour. The decision has been described as a significant landmark in Australian copyright law. My expertise in this field led me to give evidence as an expert witness in a patent dispute in the UK High Court in 2014.

In 2009, I decided to produce a prestigious limited edition remake of the Fairlight CMI to celebrate the thirtieth anniversary of the first CMIs sold. The CMI-30A started shipping in 2011 but the project was brought to a halt by legal action by the owners of the Fairlight trademark. Four years of contractual dispute culminated when the Full Bench of the Federal Court found in favour of my company and awarded damages for breach of contract.

The dispute with Nine was the first of several legal disputes which led me to study law. By the time the Fairlight litigation was concluded in 2019, I had completed my academic qualifications and practical legal training and was admitted to practise as a solicitor in all Australian courts. I am now principal of my own incorporated legal practice.

My particular interest is applying my understanding of electronics, communications and computer engineering to resolving clients’ legal issues. In addition to practising law, my creative life continues in projects such as:

  • Developing new technologies to make independent living safer and more enjoyable for the elderly, as co-owner of Vitalcare Pty Ltd.
  • Co-founder of Echidna Energy Pty Ltd, a start-up concentrating on providing renewable energy for Australia’s remote and regional communities and industries.
  • Developing a new type of baby monitor which makes the baby’s heartbeat audible – an invention inspired by the birth of my 5th child.
  • Technical advisor to Monarc Media, an Australian startup developing audio, video and virtual reality and technology that empowers deep creative expression
  • Along with my contributions to the areas of arts and technology, I have a long standing passion for social and environmental causes. In the 1970s and 1980s I was involved in campaigns which played a significant role in the eventual banning of cigarette advertising in Australia. I also helped the Wayside Chapel’s Rev. Ted Noffs establish “Life Education”, which is now Australia’s largest, independent health and drug education provider for school children.

I live in the Blue Mountains, west of Sydney, with my wife Lorraine and the two youngest of my five daughters.