Ethics of Managing your Porfolio

I know this sort of topic has come up before, but I didn’t really find answers to my specific questions… I’ll try to keep it brief.

I’ve worked at the same consultancy for 5 years, and am trying to move on. I know I can’t show anything that hasn’t been released. I also get the sense from other threads that it’s not good form to do serious retouching to old projects once you’re a full-fledged professional. OK then…

I’m all for doing my own side projects to show more recent skill development, but I’m not sure how to proceed. Our contract sorta reads ‘All Your Ideas Belong To Us’, and all the software I have available for generating new work belongs to them as well. Is it OK to work on side projects with their resources? I sicken a bit to think about the $10k I’d have to lay out for the software I use now as the price of admission in the job search.

I would love to show high-level rendering work and CAD skills, but we often move directly on to providing input to our engineers who finish it out. I don’t really have a lot of my own stuff to show in that area in my major project work, although I have some minor projects where I have done both well. Is it OK to finish out a project - say one that didn’t go past the early concept phase - with renders/CAD of my own? Do I label it as such?

Also, I wondered if doing a new project based on past information is morally dubious? I’m not necessarily talking about sensitive information about a client’s trade secrets …I’ve worked on several products in fields where research information and access to the target population is not readily available (medical products, for instance). Is it wrong to develop a new product concept out of that information source, sans any proprietary information? What if the focus groups for one project have led me to a great idea, one outside the client’s target space? Also, can I work a new project around some great IP we generated for a client, since the patents have been awarded and are public knowledge?

(So much for brief…) Thanks!