FTC, Google: The Federal Trade Commission closed its two-year investigation into Google’s business practices Thursday, saying that it could not find conclusive evidence of search bias.

But in a settlement with the agency, Google agreed to stop lawsuits that involve patents deemed essential to the telecommunications industry and to license those patents to competitors at fair rates. Google will have to abandon any cases currently dealing with these kinds of patents.

Google also agreed to change some business practices, including limiting the “scraping” of competitor products for its own vertical services and allowing competitors to opt out of those specialized services — such as special travel or shopping results — without docking their position in organic search.

In a company blog post, Google said that the ruling affirmed the tech titan’s business practices and confirms Google should be “free to combine direct answers with Web results.”

Quick reactions to Google agreement: The App Developers’ Alliance lauded the FTC decision on patents, saying that it was “good news for developers” and could give other tech companies a model for making similar commitments to stop litigating over patents deemed essential to the industry.

Computer & Communications Industry Association President Ed Black said he is concerned that the FTC’s ruling on “snippets” — in which Google agrees not to scrape data from competitors — may have muddied the waters around copyright restrictions on what search engines are allowed to display under the rules of “fair use.”

Google’s strongest critics argued that the FTC had backed down too much in the course of its investigation. All eyes, critics said, are now on Europe, where a similar case against the world’s most popular search engine is ongoing.

FairSearch, a coalition of Google’s competitors and critics said: “The FTC’s decision to close its investigation with only voluntary commitments from Google is disappointing and premature, coming just weeks before the company is expected to make a formal and detailed proposal to resolve the four abuses of dominance identified by the European Commission, first among them biased display of its own properties in search results.”

Google chairman plans North Korea visit: Google executive chairman Eric Schmidt is planning a a personal humanitarian trip to North Korea, The Washington Post reported Thursday. The news earned Schmidt some criticism from the U.S. State Department.

According to a report from Reuters, State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland told reporters, “We don’t think the timing of this is particularly helpful” given the country’s recent long-range rocket launch.

In an issue brief on the visit, The Post reported, Victor Cha of the Center for Strategic and International Studies wrote that Schmidt may be pushing North Korea to loosen restrictions on things such as education programs.

Rumors fly about Apple, Waze: The rumor mill is abuzz with the suggestion that Apple may be looking to buy the crowd-sourced mapping application Waze. TechCrunch reported Wednesday that the two companies were “advanced” in talks but were having trouble settling on a price.

A Waze spokesperson declined to comment on the reports Thursday, saying, “We never comment on rumors.” Apple did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

The report said that Apple is willing to offer up to $500 million for Waze — $400 million in cash and an additional $100 million in incentives. Waze, however, is reportedly asking for $750 million.