I work in a small, specific, applied software development niche. The industry I operate in is relatively small and everyone knows everyone. Recently myself and a colleague have been floating the idea of leaving our current company to develop a new software product based on an idea that has been discussed at my current work.
A customer who I know very well and work with closely approached me about developing a software feature which would be an extension to our current platform (which would represent one feature amongst many for our current piece of software). I, in turn, brought this to my company saying that I thought it would be commercially interesting and this was met with general approval. However, due to other priorities we haven't been able to work on it. This happened about 9 months ago. In the last two months, due to company instability my colleague and I have been thinking more seriously about taking this idea and turning it into its own product and starting our own company based on this. To further complicate matters, I am the only person at our current company with the skillset to develop a particular part of this feature/product. However, none of the development relies on proprietary algorithms and all the knowledge required to develop the functionality exists in the public domain and is part of published standards. We would be taking this knowledge and applying it in new scenario. No code has been written for this in my current employment however I have done research and determined that it is possible. I have sent emails to other members of staff confirming this.
My employer is an American company and as such has a very strict contract (which I have been told before is unenforceable in sections). My contract says words to the effect that "any idea or know-how conceived in the employment of the company is their property and should be disclosed immediately to the employer". It also states that any work I do at any time, whether inside or outside work hours is their property. Does this prevent me from starting the company and building a product based on this idea once I have terminated my current employment? What do I need to be careful of? If I start a company and am sued by my current company, are there legal insurance packages that would cover me? I don't mind giving it a go, getting a cease and desist, and calling it quits - I do mind losing all my savings because I have to pay their legal costs.
On a separate note, the aforementioned customer and I have a close relationship and I would like to make them my first customer. My current employment contract also contains a restricted covenant which prohibits me from communicating with customers who I have dealt with in the last 12 months of my employment for 3 months after the termination of my employment. My guess is that this is relatively enforceable and I would need to be careful here?
I'm really excited about this idea and hope I can make it work! Any advice gratefully received.