Risks Related to Our Intellectual Property
If we are unable to adequately protect our proprietary technology or obtain and maintain issued patents that are sufficient to protect our product candidates, others could compete against us more directly, which would have a material adverse impact on our business, results of operations, financial condition and prospects.
Our success depends in large part on our ability to obtain and maintain patent and other intellectual property protection in the United States and other countries with respect to our proprietary technology and products. We seek to protect our proprietary position by filing patent applications in the United States and abroad related to our novel technologies and product candidates. We also rely on trade secrets to protect aspects of our business that are not amenable to, or that we do not consider appropriate for, patent protection.
The patent prosecution process is expensive and time-consuming, and we may not be able to file and prosecute all necessary or desirable patent applications at a reasonable cost, in a timely manner, or in all jurisdictions. Prosecution of our patent portfolio is at a very early stage. For some patent applications in our portfolio, we have filed national stage applications based on our Patent Cooperation Treaty, or PCT, applications, thereby limiting the jurisdictions in which we can pursue patent protection for the various inventions claimed in those applications. It is also possible that we will fail to identify patentable aspects of our research and development output before it is too late to obtain patent protection. It is possible that defects of form in the preparation or filing of our patents or patent applications may exist, or may arise in the future, such as, with respect to proper priority claims, inventorship, claim scope or patent term adjustments. If there are material defects in the form or preparation of our patents or patent applications, such patents or applications may be invalid and unenforceable. Moreover, our competitors may independently develop equivalent knowledge, methods and know-how. Any of these outcomes could impair our ability to prevent competition from third parties, which may have an adverse impact on our business, financial condition and operating results.
We have obtained licenses and options to obtain licenses from third parties and may obtain additional licenses and options in the future. In some circumstances, we may not have the right to control the preparation, filing and prosecution of patent applications, or to maintain the patents, covering technology that we license from third parties. We may also require the cooperation of our licensors to enforce any licensed patent rights, and such cooperation may not be provided. Therefore, these patents and applications may not be prosecuted and enforced in a manner consistent with the best interests of our business. Moreover, if we do obtain necessary licenses, we will likely have obligations under those licenses, and any failure to satisfy those obligations could give our licensor the right to terminate the license. Termination of a necessary license could have a material adverse impact on our business.
Our patent portfolio is in the early stages of prosecution. Although we have numerous patent applications pending, substantive prosecution has begun in only a small number of those applications. We cannot provide any assurances that any of our pending patent applications will mature into issued patents and, if they do, that such patents or our current patents will include claims with a scope sufficient to protect our product candidates or otherwise provide any competitive advantage. For example, we are pursuing claims to therapeutic, binary compositions of certain bacterial populations. Any claims that may issue may provide coverage for such binary compositions and/or their use. However, such claims would not prevent a third party from commercializing alternative compositions that do not include both of the bacterial populations claimed in pending applications, potential applications or patents that have or may issue. There can be no assurance that any such alternative composition will not be equally effective. Further, given that our SER-109 product candidate is a complex composition with some variation from lot-to-lot and that, likewise, third-party compositions may have similar complexity and variability, it is possible that a patent claim may provide coverage for some but not all lots of a product candidate or third-party product. These and other factors may provide opportunities for our competitors to design around our patents, should they issue.
Moreover, other parties have developed technologies that may be related or competitive to our approach and may have filed or may file patent applications and may have received or may receive patents that may overlap or conflict with our patent applications, either by claiming similar methods or by claiming subject matter that could dominate our patent position or cover one or more of our products. In addition, given the early stage of prosecution of our portfolio, it may be some time before we understand how patent offices react to our patent claims and whether they identify prior art of relevance that we have not already considered.
Publications of discoveries in the scientific literature often lag behind the actual discoveries, and patent applications in the United States and other jurisdictions are typically not published until 18 months after filing, or in some cases not at all. Therefore, we cannot know with certainty whether we were the first to make the inventions claimed in any owned patents or pending patent applications, or that we were the first to file for patent protection of such inventions, nor can we know whether those from whom we may license patents were the first to make the inventions claimed or were the first to file. For these and other reasons, the issuance, scope, validity, enforceability and commercial value of our patent rights are subject to a level of uncertainty. Our pending and future patent applications may not result in patents being issued which protect our technology or products, in whole or in part, or which effectively prevent others from commercializing competitive technologies and products. Changes in either the patent laws or interpretation of the patent laws in the United States and other countries may diminish the value of our patents or narrow the scope of our patent protection.