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Risks Related to Our Intellectual Property
We license patent rights from third-party owners or licensees and if we fail to comply with our obligations in our intellectual property licenses, we could lose rights that are fundamental to our business.
We rely, and will continue to rely, on intellectual property rights licensed from third parties to protect our technology. We are a party to licenses that give us rights to third-party intellectual property that are necessary or useful for our business. For instance, we have a license from Massachusetts General Hospital, or MGH, to patent rights that relate to certain RNA targeting technologies for generating functional proteins. Pursuant to this agreement, we have an exclusive, sublicensable and royalty-bearing license from MGH for the exploitation of the in-licensed intellectual property rights in all therapeutic indications in the field of cystic fibrosis. For our LCA program we have a world-wide exclusive sublicensable and royalty-bearing license to patent rights owned by the Radboud University Medical Center, or Radboud, and to patent rights owned by Inserm Transfert, or Inserm, for the commercial exploitation of antisense oligonucleotides that cause exon skipping in CEP290 pre-mRNA. For our Usher program we have a world-wide exclusive sublicensable and royalty-bearing license to patent rights owned by Radboud, for the commercial exploitation of antisense oligonucleotides that cause exon skipping in USH2A pre-mRNA.
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Our licensing arrangements impose diligence, development, regulatory and commercialization milestones, and royalty, insurance and other obligations on us. If we fail to comply with these obligations, licensors may have the right to terminate these agreements, in which case we might not be able to develop, manufacture or market any product that is covered by these agreements or may face other penalties under the agreements. Such an occurrence could materially adversely affect the value of the product candidate being developed under any such agreement. Termination of this agreement or reduction or elimination of our rights under this agreement may result in our having to negotiate new or amended agreements with less favorable terms, or cause us to lose our rights under this agreement, including our rights to important intellectual property and technologies that form the basis of our RNA technology, which may then be in-licensed by one or more of our competitors.
If the third parties from whom we license patent rights do not properly or successfully obtain, maintain or enforce the patents underlying such licenses, or if they retain or license to others any competing rights, our competitive position and business prospects may be adversely affected.
Our success will further depend in part on the ability of our licensors to obtain, maintain and enforce patent protection for our licensed intellectual property, in particular, those patents to which we have secured exclusive rights. MGH, Radboud and Inserm, as well as our other licensors, may not successfully prosecute the patent applications licensed to us. Even if patents issue or are granted, MGH, Radboud and Inserm, or our other licensors may fail to maintain these patents, may determine not to pursue litigation against other companies that are infringing these patents, or may pursue litigation less aggressively than we would. Further, the license agreements may not provide us with a complete freedom to operate in the respective fields, which would allow for third parties to develop competing products. Without protection for, or exclusive right to, the intellectual property we license, other companies might be able to offer substantially identical products for sale, which could adversely affect our competitive business position and harm our business prospects.
Obtaining and maintaining our patent protection depends on compliance with various procedural, document submission, fee payment and other requirements imposed by governmental patent agencies, and our patent protection could be reduced or eliminated for non-compliance with these requirements.
Periodic maintenance fees on any issued patent are due to be paid to the United States Patent and Trademark Office, or U.S. PTO, the European Patent Office, or EPO, and other foreign patent agencies in several stages over the lifetime of the patent. The U.S. PTO and various foreign national or international patent agencies require compliance with a number of procedural, documentary, fee payment and other similar provisions during the patent application process. While an inadvertent lapse can in many cases be cured by payment of a late fee or by other means in accordance with the applicable rules, there are situations in which noncompliance can result in abandonment or lapse of the patent or patent application, resulting in partial or complete loss of patent rights in the relevant jurisdiction. Non-compliance events that could result in abandonment or lapse of patent rights include, but are not limited to, failure to timely file national and regional stage patent applications based on our international patent application, failure to respond to official actions within prescribed time limits, non-payment of fees and failure to properly legalize and submit formal documents. If we or our licensors fail to maintain the patents and patent applications covering our product candidates, our competitors might be able to enter the market, which would have a material adverse effect on our business.
We or our licensors or any future collaborators or strategic partners may become subject to third party claims or litigation alleging infringement of patents or other proprietary rights or seeking to invalidate patents or other proprietary rights, and we may need to resort to litigation to protect or enforce our patents or other proprietary rights, all of which could be costly, time consuming, delay or prevent the development and commercialization of our product candidates, or put our patents and other proprietary rights at risk.
We or our licensors or any future collaborators or strategic partners may be subject to third-party claims for infringement or misappropriation of patent or other proprietary rights. We are generally obligated under our license or collaboration agreements to indemnify and hold harmless our licensors or collaborators for damages arising from intellectual property infringement by us. If we or our licensors, or any future collaborators or strategic partners are found to infringe a third party patent or other intellectual property rights, we could be required to pay damages, potentially including treble damages, if we are found to have willfully infringed. In addition, we or our licensors, or any future collaborators or
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strategic partners may choose to seek, or be required to seek, a license from a third party, which may not be available on acceptable terms, if at all. Even if a license can be obtained on acceptable terms, the rights may be non-exclusive, which could give our competitors access to the same technology or intellectual property rights licensed to us. If we fail to obtain a required license, we or any future collaborator may be unable to effectively market product candidates based on our technology, which could limit our ability to generate revenue or achieve profitability and possibly prevent us from generating revenue sufficient to sustain our operations. In addition, we may find it necessary to pursue claims or initiate lawsuits to protect or enforce our patent or other intellectual property rights. The cost to us in defending or initiating any litigation or other proceeding relating to patent or other proprietary rights, even if resolved in our favor, could be substantial, and litigation would divert our management’s attention for a significant amount of time. Some of our competitors may be able to sustain the costs of complex patent litigation more effectively than we can because they have substantially greater resources. Uncertainties resulting from the initiation and continuation of patent litigation or other proceedings could delay our research and development efforts and limit our ability to continue our operations.
If we were to initiate legal proceedings against a third party to enforce a patent covering one of our products or our technology, the defendant could counterclaim that our patent is invalid or unenforceable. In patent litigation in the U.S. and in most European countries, defendant counterclaims alleging invalidity or unenforceability are commonplace. Grounds for a validity challenge could be an alleged failure to meet any of several statutory requirements, for example, lack of novelty, obviousness or non-enablement. Grounds for an unenforceability assertion could be an allegation that someone connected with prosecution of the patent withheld relevant information from the U.S. PTO, or made a misleading statement, during prosecution. The outcome following legal assertions of invalidity and unenforceability during patent litigation is unpredictable. With respect to the validity question, for example, we cannot be certain that there is no invalidating prior art, of which we and the patent examiner were unaware during prosecution. If a defendant were to prevail on a legal assertion of invalidity or unenforceability, we would lose at least part, and perhaps all, of the patent protection on one or more of our products or certain aspects of our platform technology. Such a loss of patent protection could have a material adverse impact on our business. Patents and other intellectual property rights also will not protect our technology if competitors design around our protected technology without legally infringing our patents or other intellectual property rights.
Third parties may initiate legal proceedings alleging that we are infringing their intellectual property rights, the outcome of which would be uncertain and could have a material adverse effect on the success of our business.
Our commercial success depends upon our ability to develop, manufacture, market and sell our product candidates, and to use our proprietary technologies without infringing the proprietary rights of third parties. We cannot guarantee that none of our product candidates, their manufacture, use, sale, offer for sale, or importation into the United States or into any country of the EEA will be held to infringe a third party patent. As a result, we may become party to, or threatened with, future adversarial proceedings or litigation regarding intellectual property rights with respect to our products and technology, including litigation in a Federal District court, or an interference or a post grant proceeding before the U.S. PTO or litigation in foreign courts or proceedings before foreign patent offices. Third parties may assert infringement claims against us based on existing patents or patents that may be granted in the future. We are aware of an issued U.S. patent with claims directed to purified DNA and RNA molecules encoding a CFTR protein or a mutant CFTR protein containing a F508del mutation. Although we believe that the claims of this patent are not valid or infringed, particularly in light of the U.S. Supreme Court decision regarding the patentability of naturally-occurring nucleic acids, the patent owner may nonetheless initiate litigation. In addition, we are aware of patent positions related to the use of antisense oligonucleotides in the treatment of DEB, for which we have initiated negotiations to enter into exclusive license agreements. We have not entered into such license agreements, and there can be no guarantee that we will enter into such agreements on these positions on commercially reasonable terms or at all. If we do not enter into such license agreements, the patent owner(s) may initiate litigation for potential patent infringement. Any such litigation would cause us to incur substantial expenses, which would be costly and divert our management’s attention, and there is no assurance that a court would find in our favor on questions of infringement or validity.
Furthermore, in the event a thus far unidentified third party were to assert an infringement claim against us and we were ultimately found to infringe the third party’s intellectual property rights, we could be required to obtain a license from such third party to continue developing and commercializing our products and technology. However, we may not be able to obtain an appropriate license on commercially reasonable terms or at all. Even if we are able to obtain a license, it
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may be non-exclusive, thereby giving our competitors access to the same technologies licensed to us. We could be forced, including by court order, to cease commercializing the infringing technology or product. In addition, in any such proceeding or litigation, we could be found liable for monetary damages. A finding of infringement could prevent us from commercializing our product candidates or force us to cease some of our business operations, which could materially harm our business. Any claims by third parties that we have misappropriated their confidential information or trade secrets could have a similar negative impact on our business.
If we are not able to adequately prevent disclosure of trade secrets and other proprietary information, the value of our technology and products could be significantly diminished.
We rely on trade secrets to protect our proprietary technologies, especially where we do not believe patent protection is appropriate or obtainable. However, trade secrets are difficult to protect. We rely in part on confidentiality agreements with our employees, consultants, outside scientific collaborators, sponsored researchers, contract manufacturers, vendors and other advisors to protect our trade secrets and other proprietary information. These agreements may not effectively prevent disclosure of confidential information and may not provide an adequate remedy in the event of unauthorized disclosure of confidential information. In addition, we cannot guarantee that we have executed these agreements with each party that may have or has had access to our trade secrets.
Any party with whom we or they have executed such an agreement may breach that agreement and disclose our proprietary information, including our trade secrets, and we may not be able to obtain adequate remedies for such breaches. Enforcing a claim that a party illegally disclosed or misappropriated a trade secret is difficult, expensive and time-consuming, and the outcome is unpredictable. In addition, some courts inside and outside the United States are less willing or unwilling to protect trade secrets. If any of our trade secrets were to be lawfully obtained or independently developed by a competitor, we would have no right to prevent them, or those to whom they disclose such trade secrets, from using that technology or information to compete with us. If any of our trade secrets were to be disclosed to or independently developed by a competitor or other third-party, our competitive position could be harmed.
We may be subject to claims that we or our employees or consultants have wrongfully used or disclosed alleged trade secrets of our employees’ or consultants’ former employers or their clients. These claims may be costly to defend and if we do not successfully do so, we may be required to pay monetary damages and may lose valuable intellectual property rights or personnel.
Many of our employees were previously employed at universities or biotechnology or pharmaceutical companies, including our competitors or potential competitors. Although no claims against us are currently pending, we may be subject to claims that these employees or we have inadvertently or otherwise used or disclosed trade secrets or other proprietary information of their former employers. Litigation may be necessary to defend against these claims. If we fail in defending such claims, in addition to paying monetary damages, we may lose valuable intellectual property rights or personnel. A loss of key research personnel or their work product could compromise our ability to commercialize, or prevent us from commercializing, our product candidates, which could severely harm our business. Even if we are successful in defending against these claims, litigation could result in substantial costs and be a distraction to management.
We may not be able to protect our intellectual property rights throughout the world.
Filing, prosecuting and defending patents on all of our product candidates throughout the world would be prohibitively expensive. Competitors may use our technologies in jurisdictions where we have not obtained patent protection to develop their own products and, further, may be able to export otherwise infringing products to territories where we have patent protection but where enforcement is not as strong as that in the United States. These products may compete with our products in jurisdictions where we do not have any issued patents and our patent claims or other intellectual property rights may not be effective or sufficient to prevent them from so competing.
Many companies have encountered significant problems in protecting and defending intellectual property rights in certain foreign jurisdictions. The legal systems of certain countries, particularly certain developing countries, do not favor the enforcement of patents and other intellectual property protection, particularly those relating to
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biopharmaceuticals, which could make it difficult for us to stop the infringement of our patents or marketing of competing products in violation of our proprietary rights generally. For example, the Special 301 Report (April 2016) from the Office of the United States Trade Representative identified a number of countries, including India and China, where challenges to the procurement and enforcement of patent rights have been reported. Several countries, including India and China, have been listed in the report every year since 1989. As a result, proceedings to enforce our patent rights in certain foreign jurisdictions could result in substantial cost and divert our efforts and attention from other aspects of our business.