Business

European Court of Justice is sued itself over delays

Man playing with Rubik's cube
Image caption A German toy company has challenged the Rubik's cube trademark

Delays at the European Court of Justice (ECJ) have become so bad that the court is now being sued by some of those who have been kept waiting.

The number of cases being lodged has risen dramatically and many of those include trademark disputes.

A case at the general court, which upholds European Union (EU) rules, can now take nearly four years to be heard.

One of those caught up in the backlog is David Kremer, president of Rubik's Brand Limited.

He has been involved in a battle dating back to 2006 to register the famous Rubik cube shape as a trademark.

"Clearly we thought it would be a relatively straightforward matter to decide whether or not a trademark was valid," he said.

"Obviously it's frustrating. If we'd had a clear, concise judgement that it was valid in, say, one or two years, we would have had a much more straightforward job in protecting the market and we would have sold more cubes.

"Pirate cubes are now being sold which can be dangerous, with sharp edges and so on."

'Business on hold'

Trademark cases have increased by 50% from around 200 to 300 a year.

The Rubik mark was first registered in 1999 but was challenged in 2006 by a German toy manufacturer.

The general court ruled in favour of David Kremer at the end of last year, but the German company appealed to the European Court of Justice.

"It seems however long you think it will take, it will take twice as long as that," Mr Kremer told Radio 4's You and Yours.

"You have to laugh about it. You can't put your business on hold; you just have to soldier on doing the best you can."

'Compensation'

Five companies have now registered claims for damages against the ECJ because of the delays in settling cases.

They include businesses in the Netherlands and France found guilty and fined for running cartels. If successful, compensation payouts could total £20m.

Christopher Fretwell from the ECJ said: "Regardless of the company or the person's behaviour, they have the right to have their case dealt with within a reasonable time.

"If not, they could be entitled to compensation. Clearly it is not good for a court to be sued for the length of time it is taking to deal with cases and this money comes out of the EU's budget, which is paid for by the taxpayer."

The court now wants to double the number of judges over the next four years to 56, at an extra cost of £10m a year.

In 2011, 12 more judges were supposed to have been appointed, but this never happened because the EU could not agree which countries they should come from.

The European Parliament now has to approve the new proposal.

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