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When is $100 million not $100 million? When it’s a proxy, maybe even something akin to a bet.

The nice, round figure is the target initial public offering value for Editas Medicine, a biotechnology firm with a mission of using gene editing to treat disease. The company has already raised more than $160 million from investors, and initial evaluations of the IPO said it was almost certain to be exceeded when the stock started trading publicly.

But Editas could face a big problem. The company has hitched its fortunes to CRISPR, a revolutionary gene-editing technology embroiled in concerns over ethics and, most immediately, a patent dispute. Editas licensed the technology in 2014 from the patent holder, scientists from the Broad Institute of MIT and Harvard, as part of its research into genomic medicine, including cancer immunotherapies. But earlier this month, the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office accepted a challenge to the Broad Institute group’s patent from the University of California, which is backing a rival group of scientists. Without licensing from the eventual winner of the...