Ucentric Systems said it has secured a patent tied to key components involved in the sharing of content via networked media centers and gateways.

Maynard, Mass.-based Ucentric makes networking software for such devices. The patent (No. 6,526,581), awarded in February, explains a "multi-service in-home network with an open interface." More specifically, the patent calls for the use of a gateway that provides an open software interface to control in-home communications and to enable various in-home devices, including TVs, stereos, telephones and PCs, to access external communication features.

The patent, which names Richard Edson as its inventor, was first filed in August 1999.

Ucentric, which competes with companies such as Digeo Inc., said the awarded patent is the first of others that the company has pending.

The concept of the media center has caught the eye of cable operators, though not many have announced deployment commitments, citing high hardware costs among the top detractors. Charter Communications is one of a small group of MSOs so far to announce plans involving the media center, including Motorola Broadband 's forthcoming BMC 9000.

Still, the consolidation of consumer electronic devices and functions, if a recent forecast is any indication, will enjoy a cheery — and very connected — future.

Allied Business Intelligence predicts that more than half of all televisions shipped in 2008 will be connected by some form of home network, and that new uber-boxes will integrate a spate of entertainment components such as DVD players and records, digital video recorders and game consoles.

"Device consolidation is imminent," predicted ABI Senior Analyst Vamsi Sistla. "By 2008, 'all-in-one' boxes...will outsell each of these respective devices."