Research In Motion is facing fierce competition in the smartphone market from Apple. The company recently released the BlackBerry Storm to compete with the iPhone. ((Associated Press))

Research In Motion Ltd. is launching an application store in March that will allow BlackBerry users to download software designed by third parties directly onto their devices.

The move will allow people to customize their devices with software that takes advantage of the internet and GPS capabilities found on many BlackBerry models.

"The new BlackBerry application storefront and BlackBerry application centers will further support the growing BlackBerry ecosystem and help bridge consumers with developers and carriers as more and more innovative and interesting applications arrive," said RIM co-chief executive officer Mike Lazaridis in a statement.

The store will also allow Waterloo, Ont.-based RIM to compete with a similar offering from Apple Inc., which has enjoyed huge success in selling software applications to its iPhone customers.

Software designers will be able to begin submitting their applications to RIM for approval beginning in December.

The company, which made the announcement on Tuesday at its BlackBerry Developer Conference in Santa Clara, Calif., said developers will be able to charge whatever they want for their applications. RIM will take a 20-per-cent commission on each application downloaded, the company said.

RIM also said it is working with PayPal, the online payment system owned by online auction house eBay Inc., on a system that will allow BlackBerry users to make their purchases right on their device. Apple's iPhone users, in contrast, use the company's own integrated online store iTunes to buy their applications.