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I currently work for a company, a big company. I have a contract that states that I need to ask for permission to have another job. Very standard I suppose.

I'd like to start trying out some ideas for start ups. Some of them work without moving money (write a program, release it as shareware or something like that and see if people is interested), that's easy.

But some ideas need to move money. One is, in some way, like Amazon's Turk Machine, where money should be involved since day 1. Without having to request permission from my current employer and having to set up a company, how can I give that idea a try?

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migrated from Mar 20 '11 at 8:48

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Can you be specific about which nation's legal system you fall under so we don't have the usual flamewar about what is enforcable/unenforcable at your geographic location? –  Kev Oct 14 '08 at 0:45
I marked this as offtopic because it's a question about getting a business off the ground, funding it and employer/employee IP issues. I don't really see the 'programming' question here. –  Kev Oct 14 '08 at 1:27

5 Answers 5

Might want to talk to a lawyer; this sounds like it needs legal advice, not comments from semi-anonymous strangers on The Internets.

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My biggest concern would be your employer claiming ownership of any intellectual property you create while employed by them.

Here's a nice short answer: talk to a lawyer. It will cost you a little, but could save a bundle in the long run.

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Just for the record, the contract doesn't claim of everything you do. It specifically says that everything you do while working for the company or using the company's resources it's theirs while anything you do on your spare time is yours. I'm not afraid of this issue in particular. –  Brian Leahy Oct 13 '08 at 21:04
Better safe than sorry. Google for the guy who made the Bratz dolls. –  Ben Robbins Oct 14 '08 at 0:05
@Anonymous - unless you know which country's employment laws are applicable there's no point in speculating what is and isn't enforcable. –  Kev Oct 14 '08 at 0:48
IF you are in a country with a legal system descended from english common law then its quite possible EVERYTHING you do that is vaguely related to your employment belongs to your employer. So if you work as a programmer and make wine on weekends for sale, thats OK. But writing code on the weekends... much more difficult analysis. Get legal advice. –  quickly_now Mar 20 '11 at 9:19

Before you go lining the lawyers pockets make sure you have a reasonably solid idea of what you want to do - it's all a bit academic otherwise. Think carefully about how you are going to monetise your idea - where does the revenue come from? Have a really clear view of your potential customer and what they might want and pay for. Have a reasonably clear view of whether you can get something to market without startup money. The later you leave it to get money the more of your own company you will own and the richer you will eventually be.

Talk to startup people in your local community. Not only is it a great way to meet like-minded techies, but it will make you a great network if and when you do finally need to find resources to execute on your master-plan. In general you are likely to find them a pretty open-minded and accommodating bunch. Don't feel you have to tell them your secrets, but ask them about how they got started. They will probably be a route into the local Angel or VC network too.

If you are not directly competitive with your current company then they are likely not to be interested in pursuing you for any IP you may create. In general the clause in your contract is to protect them from employees running off with the ideas and setting up shop in direct competition. Contrary to popular belief most big corporates are not really interested in owning your hobbies. Plus they only very rarely take up the option and most courts would probably kick it out anyway.

Last of all, stay in the day job until you either can't face it anymore and are willing to step off the edge of the world, or you can see where your first pay cheque is comeing from in your own business. Anything else is very risky - not completely silly, but very risky.

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I'd inclined to agree with Vlion but would like to add that people in the US have lost their software to their employer because the employer owned their ideas.

For example, if you're a software developer at your job and you're salary -- it's arguable that all the code you write is owned by them. Slashdot and many other news sites reported this many years ago. So, keep in mind that some cases where people have been in your position and lost that software. Said software gained that company lots of money when it started gaining traction.

In situations like this, it's best to play as paranoid as possible -- consult a lawyer. Don't get a cheap lawyer either since they most likely won't be the one defending you if you're company goes after you.

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See my other comment about legal systems descended from english common law. People think their out-of-office time is theirs. Frequently if you do stuff in the same domain as your employer, its not. –  quickly_now Mar 20 '11 at 9:20

I would be very surprised if this was legally enforceable. If you were in the UK, these kinds of clauses are often used but rarely enforceable. A non-compete can be more reasonable, but even these aren't enforceable if you effectively stop somebody working in the surrounding area. Most non-competes are geographically bound too, and in our field that's increasingly irrelevant. The fact that these things are so dodgy, is why contracts usually have a severability clause that allow the rest of the contract to stand when somebody points out that other bits are a joke!

But Jon B's nice short answer is absolutely right. You need legal advice.

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