Apple may have escaped legal action by holding fire on the launch of a European iTunes Music Store.

New York based E-Data Corp has announced it is seeking an injunction against the German subsidiaries of Microsoft, Tiscali and OD2 to defend its European patent EP 0 195 098 B-1.

The patent was originally granted to Charles Freeny in July 1985 for his "system for reproducing information in material objects at a point of sale location". It covers the downloading and recording of information, such as music, news articles and films, from a computer onto “tangible” objects such as a CD or a sheet of paper.

Because E-Data's US patent has expired, Apple's iTunes music store is not subject to such a lawsuit, though E-Data says it is "keeping a close eye" on Apple's plans for iTunes in Europe.

Koos Rasser, managing partner of Howrey Simon Arnold & White LLP, the law firm representing E-Data, said: "We've no issue with Apple, at least for now. There are some rumours in the press that it is preparing an iTunes service in Europe, so we are watching closely."

This may be one explanation for the delay in an Apple iTunes Music Store for Europe. E-Data's lawyers claim to have written to Apple to alert it to potential patent problems should iTunes be launched in Europe without proper licencing agreements. "Apple never acknowledged having received the letter though it should now be aware of the patent issues," Rasser said.

Chairman of E-Data Corporation Bert Brodsky said: "Microsoft, Tiscali and OD2 have not done their homework on patent rights before launching their service in Europe. We are confident in the scope of our patents as demonstrated by our favourable rulings in the US"