What's black and white and red all over the Washington area? If it's a taxicab company, it will be Arlington's Red Top Cab Co.

In an apparent end to one of the most colorful cases in recent years, the 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Richmond yesterday upheld a lower court's ruling that the Arlington company had first rights to the colors red and black -- colors that Washington's Mayflower Cab Association had also used for its fleet until last year.

For 21 years, Red Top has used those colors on what is today a 209-cab fleet. But when Mayflower started business almost three years ago, it decided to use the same colors "because it's easier to see the cab," Mayflower General Manager Paul Chadha said yesterday.

Mayflower has said in court that it never intentionally decided to copy Red Top's colors.

"To the company, it matters a lot that the drivers like the color," Chadha said. "They liked it and the public liked it."

Red Top did not, and took Mayflower to court, charging trademark infringement. Red Top, said the company's attorney, Thomas O. Lawson, "has established an excellent reputation of cab operations in the community," which the Arlington firm thought Mayflower was trying to capitalize on.

The upshot of the hearings at U.S. District Court in Alexandria, the trial court, was that Mayflower could either go all red or use red on its doors only.

In a later modified decision, Mayflower was barred from using any red.

The lower court refused to stay its ruling while Mayflower appealed the decision, so Mayflower last September changed its colors to beige and black.

The decision, Chadha said, was costly -- both in customer dollars and drivers, whose number has dwindled from about 175 to 60 since the repainting.

"They went to other companies because they didn't like the color combination," Chadha said.

He added that he did not know whether Mayflower would appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court, but said the company would begin looking for a "more attractive color combination" soon.

"A lot of customers used to complain," Red Top driver Einar Hernits said yesterday about the confusion caused when the two companies used the same colors -- especially when a Red Top was called into the city by a Virginia customer who unwittingly went off in a Mayflower cab.

To Red Top customer and Arlington resident Gerard Cissel , who grew up in the District, the color flap is not a paramount concern: "Do I care? No, as long as there's a cab there when you need it. When it rains, they're hard to find no matter where you are, or what color they are."